Salmon Arm  

Devastating Shuswap wildfire now 'held' says wildfire service

Bush Creek blaze now held

One of the largest and most destructive wildfires in the Southern Interior this summer is now considered held.

The BC Wildfire Service updated the Bush Creek East wildfire's status Monday afternoon, meaning that it is no longer likely to spread beyond predetermined boundaries under current conditions.

It is, however, still considered a wildfire of note, meaning it is highly visible or still poses a potential threat.

Since it was sparked by lightning on July 12, the fire has burned 45,613 hectares.

The blaze began as two separate fires on either side of Adams Lake. It would grow to merge and aggressively burn across the North Shuswap, as well as south, crossing the Trans-Canada Highway, into the Sorrento and Turtle Valley areas.

North Shuswap communities were particularly hard hit.

In total, structure losses to the conflagration summed 270.

Recent rains and cooler fall temperatures have aided work on the fire, with more showers expected this evening.

Sporadic light showers are forecast to continue this week.

Meanwhile, "fire response continues to be focused on extinguishing hot spots along the perimeter and near the urban interface," the wildfire service says.

"Crews are removing fire suppression gear from areas where it is no longer needed," and "a specialized rap-attack crew is working near the transmission line."

Ground crews are working near the north end of Celista, where the fire is burning in a peat bog, and are mopping up and patrolling for hot spots south of Agate Bay.

Patrolling and monitoring continues in the Turtle Valley/Sorrento area.

Although fall has arrived, nearby communities can still expect to see smoke within the perimeter, well into fall, the wildfire service said previously.

The area surrounding the fire remains an active worksite.

There are 156 wildland firefighters and 27 support staff assigned to the fire. They are supported by four helicopters and 20 pieces of heavy equipment.


Roots and Blues Festival asks ticket holders to pay it forward, waive refunds

Festival seeks forgiveness

After a wildfire-abbreviated Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival, organizers are asking ticket holders to waive their refunds to support next summer's festival.

The festival was cancelled after its opening night in August as the Bush Creek East wildfire threatened the Shuswap.

"Ticket holders to the 31st annual Roots and Blues have the chance to support the magic of live music," the festival says.

"After the short but sweet festival this summer, ticket holders can choose to waive all or a portion of their refund and donate the proceeds to support next year's Roots and Blues," management says in a press release.

Salmon Arm Folk Music Society executive director David Gonella says the festival relies on revenue from multiple sources, with a large portion of generated through the previous year's festival.

"This process of raising funds for the next year's event has made the successful programming of Roots and Blues possible," says Gonella. "With the abrupt cancellation of the event this year, next year's festival may be underfunded."

Gonella says the society must still pay suppliers, contractors and artists for their work despite the cancellation, as much of the work is done before the festival gates open.

"We appreciate everyone's patience and understanding while we developed our refund strategy," says board chair Kimm Magill-Hofmann. "In a year when so many people and businesses have been directly impacted by fire evacuations, the compassion of festival goers is what makes Roots and Blues so special."

"Despite this year's festival being cut short, we will make every effort to present the 32nd annual Roots and Blues in the way we have all come to know and love," says Gonella.

Ticket holders will receive an email from the society outlining the refund and donation options available for each type of ticket.

For more information, visit www.rootsandblues.ca.

Sicamous woman scratches a $75,000 lotto win

Scratches a $75K win

“It still hasn’t hit me yet… I can’t believe it,” Sicamous resident Evelyn Burgess says of winning $75,000 on a scratch-and-win lottery ticket.

It was one of those pinch-me moments when Burgess discovered she'd scored $75,000 on a High Roller Casino ticket.

Burgess almost didn't buy the ticket at the Chevron on MacLean-McPherson Road.

The retailer said "there’s a new ticket out, but I said, ‘No not today’ and walked out but then I turned right around and bought it anyways," Burgess says.

She opted to check her ticket on BCLC’s Lotto! App during her lunch break at work.

“I made the electrician at work pinch me because I couldn’t believe it!”

The lottery winner plans to use some of her prize to purchase some new furniture for her home.

Zion Growing Solutions to grow indoors- year round near Salmon Arm

Local strawberries in Dec?

They should be growing strawberries near Salmon Arm by the end of December. Frost in the ground and snow won’t affect Zion Growing Solutions’ plan to set up their year round farming business in neighbouring Tappen.

“We’ve had delays with all the goings on here,” says Zion’s president David DenHollander referring to weeks of diverted focus while wildfires and smoke plagued most of the North Shuswap. “We’re just in the process of installing support systems and our vertical growing towers are showing up in a couple of weeks.”

Zion Growing Solutions is a Salmon Arm based company who will be partnering with Agriplay out of Calgary to supply their vertical growing towers. Agriplay has already turned millions of square feet of unused office space in Calgary essentially into farms and DenHollander is excited to bring the company's technology to B.C.

DenHollander says they’ll be starting with strawberries. “Once we get the systems installed and it’s up and going, we should start producing fruit within 30 days.”

The growing will happen on the Tappen based property that once housed Orica’s blasting cap factory. The site which is located just off Trans-Canada Highway near Recline Ridge, sits on 160 acres and has several existing buildings.

DenHolander wants to transform that space into an “eco-park” that will not only take indoor farming to the next level but create a space for up and coming technologies like the use of thermal batteries, solar technologies, and exploring water-saving solutions; all this while improving local food security.

DenHolander explains, they’ve chosen to start with the Monterey variety of strawberry for it’s taste and continuous growth cycle, “What differentiates us is we can be producing local strawberries 12 months a year.”

The product will be sold under the brand name “Tappen Valley Produce” and Zion has already secured shelf space with local grocers and a “major national chain.”

Car accident on Highway 1 slows traffic

Highway 1 moving slow

A car accident between Salmon Arm and Tappen has slowed traffic.

A motorist tells Castanet that the accident took place at 3:45 p.m. on Highway 1 near Kault Hill Road.

Single-lane traffic in the area has caused delays.

It's unknown how many cars were involved in the crash.

Highway 97A south of Sicamous fully reopened Saturday morning

Hwy 97A fully cleared

UPDATE: 8:30 a.m.

Highway 97A has been fully reopened following a closure earlier Saturday morning.

UPDATE: 7:15 a.m.

Highway 97A has been reopened to single lane, alternating traffic following a closure earlier Saturday morning.

ORIGINAL: 6:30 a.m.

A crash has closed Highway 97A south of Sicamous Saturday morning.

The crash occurred just before 5 a.m. between Mara Heights Rd and Sicamous Creek Frontage Road.

The highway is currently closed in both directions. A detour is available using Highway 1 and 97B.

The condition of those involved in the crash is not clear at this time.

UBCM endorses Sicamous resolution asking for more action on Highway 1 improvement plan

'Hurry up on highway fixes'

The Union of B.C. Municipalities wants the province to hurry up on replacement of the narrow and deteriorating Bruhn Bridge at Sicamous.

The UBCM will ask the province to initiate multiple projects laid out in its Trans-Canada Highway improvements plan after delegates at the convention in Vancouver adopted a resolution from Sicamous on Wednesday.

The resolution states in 2021, the province committed $837 million over three years to fund safety and efficiency improvements along a 400-kilometre section of Highway 1 between Kamloops and the Alberta border.

"However, several projects identified in the provincial plan are not yet underway, including the deteriorating RW Bruhn Bridge that poses significant public safety concerns," the resolution states.

The bridge is located just west of Sicamous and has been the scene of numerous collisions, some of them fatal.

According to the provincial government website, the project is currently in the detailed design phase, with a construction tender planned to advance in 2023.

However, in 2018, the province expected early construction to begin in 2020.

At the time, the Ministry of Transportation said a new five-lane bridge would include four-lane approaches, "improving safety and efficiency for people travelling through the area on Highway 1."

It would include acceleration and deceleration lanes at Old Spallumcheen Road, a new roadway passing under the bridge to increase connectivity and a multi-use path to increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

In 2018, the project was pegged at $224.5 million.

A 2022 collision between a pickup and semi on the bridge saw the smaller truck smash through the guard rail and dangle precariously over the Sicamous Narrows.

The crash sent eight people to hospital and shut down the highway for hours.

In 2021, a Kamloops man was killed in another crash on the bridge.

This week's resolution directed the UBCM to "request the province initiate projects currently identified in the 2021 Highway 1 - Kamloops to Alberta - four-laning plan to improve safety, reliability, and capacity of the Trans-Canada Highway."

It noted the 400-kilometre section of highway is home to some of the most challenging terrain in Canada, and is used by up to 12,000 vehicles per day.

Local government representatives voted to endorse a block of resolutions which focused on topics from transportation and safety to health and finance, including Sicamous' highway improvements motion.

Rain helps at Bush Creek, but fire is 'dug in deep' and a challenge to extinguish

Fire is 'dug in deep'

Rain fell on most areas of the Bush Creek East wildfire overnight.

The BC Wildfire Service says this will keep fire activity low today, which will help with suppression efforts over the next couple of days.

But with a drying forecast, it's likely to pick back up.

"With drought conditions in the area, the fire has dug in deep, and extinguishing it will continue to be a challenge," the wildfire service says.

"Although fall has arrived, nearby communities can still expect to see smoke within the perimeter over the coming weeks."

That's likely to continue until snow falls, but smoke that's within the fire perimeter and surrounded by burned material is not a concern.

Sunshine and warm temperatures Friday will reduce humidity, but unsettled conditions are expected over the weekend with patchy showers late Saturday and cooling temperatures on Sunday. Gusty conditions are possible.

Recent cool, wet conditions have reduced fire activity, providing an opportunity for crews to work in areas of previously intense fire activity.

In the Adams Lake area, crews are patrolling for and extinguishing hot spots near Banshee Lake, north of Hiuhill Creek and the Loakin-Bear Road, and northwest of Tsalkom Mountain.

In areas where it is no longer needed, crews are removing fire suppression gear from the fire.

Crews are laying hose and constructing guard south of Agate Bay and north of Fadear Lake, where the fire was active over the weekend.

Heavy equipment is supporting ground personnel with water delivery and guard construction.

On the north end of Meadows Creek Valley, heavy equipment is supporting guard creation while crews are patrolling for and extinguishing hot spots.

A specialized rapattack crew is rappelling into steep and otherwise inaccessible areas east of Lee Creek.

Ground crews continue working within the North Shuswap, cooling hotspots near the urban interface.

Meanwhile, crews are using direct attack methods and mopping up in the Squilax Mountain area and the east gulley. Hot spots are being identified and extinguished in Turtle Valley.

Since July 12, the fire has burned an estimated 45,613 hectares.

BCWS has 190 crew members and 33 pieces of heavy equipment assigned to the fire, supported by 11 helicopters.

Shuswap farmer donates corn to those affected by wildfire

Corn farmer gives back

More than 600 cobs of corn were donated by a single farmer to people affected by the Bush Creek East wildfire.

Forrest Shuster is owner-operator of the corn and pumpkin operations at Destiny Acres Farm in Sorrento.

A Shuswap Emergency Program volunteer, Bill Crozier, drove into the farmyard in August pulling an Emergency Social Services trailer, something Shuster says was fortuitous.

“He asked about the possibility of a donation,” says Crozier.

Sales had been greatly reduced by the Trans-Canada Highway closure and lack of tourists, meaning Shuster was left with a lot of corn.

“He showed up at the right time with the right question.”

Crozier, a retired RCMP member, has volunteered with the SEP’s Emergency Social Services for 14 years. He says he was impressed to find bags of corn ready for distribution when he returned to Destiny Acres two days later.

Shuster picked almost all of the corn himself as he had sent his workers home when the wildfire jumped the highway on Aug. 18. His young niece and nephew helped him bag the corn, which was transported to the North Shuswap.

Crozier delivered 500 cobs to Lakeview Centre in Anglemont, with 100 set aside for Seymour Arm. He then drove to St. Ives and left 100 for that community.

Crozier says he was impressed by the Angelmont volunteers who continued to cook for firefighters at Lakeview Centre despite being without power.

Cozier spoke to a man who’d been a firefighter and lost everything in the fire. The man said his glass was still half full because nobody had lost their life in the fire.

“When I retired from the force, my view of humanity was quite shaded,” says Cozier. “It’s a shame that it takes a tragedy like this to reinstate my faith in humanity, in that it brings the community together.”

Now the corn season has ended, Shuster has begun focusing on his annual pumpkin patch, which is expected to open in time for Thanksgiving.

Shuster began growing and selling sweet corn 11 years ago from a wheelbarrow. He now tends to about 100,000 cobs on seven acres.

Firefighters battled wall of flame to save Sorrento

Fighting a wall of fire

It was a wall of fire advancing like an angry dragon.

The Bush Creek East wildfire began an aggressive run down Black Mountain in the early hours of Aug. 30 as it closed in on Sorrento.

"Thanks to a tremendous effort by four Columbia Shuswap Regional District fire departments, BC Wildfire Service and the CP Rail fire train, flames were held back before reaching any structures," the CSRD says in a recap of that dramatic night.

Tappen-Sunnybrae Fire Chief Mark Zaichkowsky was at the fire's incident command post on the night of Aug. 29, and had a clear view across Shuswap Lake.

Winds from an approaching cold front began picking up about 8 p.m. and grew increasingly gusty. While a wind event had been forecast, nobody expected Rank 4 and 5 fire behaviour.

"By 12:30, we saw a large trail of fire tracking toward Sorrento, and we knew where it was heading,” Zaichkowksy recalls.

He alerted CSRD Deputy Fire Chief Sean Coubrough and Shuswap Deputy Fire Chief Ty Barrett at 1:15 a.m.

"BC Wildfire raced out of the North Shuswap with a night task force equipped with three engines and one water tender," Coubrough says. The Shuswap, White Lake and Eagle Bay firehalls responded with four water tenders and four engines and were joined by structural firefighters from Tappen-Sunnybrae, who arrived with two tenders and an engine.

"We had 40-plus firefighters with local knowledge and experience," says Coubrough.

White Lake firefighter Sophie Randell recalls driving towards a wall of flame, her car with ember burns on its fenders.

"I rounded a curve and thought 'oh shit, this is not a small fire,'" she says. "Adrenaline was pumping, and it was eyes wide open."

CSRD firefighters immediately began spraying water to save a chicken farm near Frederickson Road.

Randell says working on constantly emerging hot spots at the edge of the forest was challenging.

"We were able to wet the area and create a bit of a humidity zone, reducing the threat to structures," says Coubrough. "We basically created a rainforest. You could feel the humidity increase."

Crews also battled flames heading towards power lines and were sent in to protect a home, shop and a mobile home that was close to the rapidly progressing fire.

The fire got into a large slash pile, sending an ember shower skyward and dangerously close to the mobile home.

Structural firefighters joined BCWS in attacking the wall of fire.

"Fires were spreading quickly at Rank 4 to 5," says Coubrough.

Unlike a typical fire, where 1.5-inch hoses are used, the firefighters were equipped with 2.5-inch hoses that are heavier but deliver 200 to 325 gallons of water as opposed to the smaller hose's 150 to 200 gallons per minute.

Large portable water tanks were set up at the Sorrento Firehall first, then Firehall 2 on the Trans-Canada Highway.

"There was no water in Sorrento the next day, but we didn't lose any properties," says Coubrough.

The wildfire service told him: "We would have been in trouble without you guys."

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