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BCWS says hundreds fighting Bush Creek fire as officials work to tally structure loss

Hundreds work to fight fire

UPDATE: 9:14 p.m.

The BC Wildfire Service says hundreds of people are working to battle the Bush Creek East wildfire burning in the North Shuswap as officials work to get an official tally of the number of structures lost.

The 41,041-hectare Bush Creek East wildfire has impacted structures in at least a couple of North Shuswap communities, but the total number of property loss hasn’t yet been confirmed.

Derek Sutherland, Emergency Operations Centre director, said during an information briefing Tuesday the CSRD is working with Canada Task Force One, a heavy urban search and rescue unit, to complete a rapid damage assessment in the area.

“They’ve started their work this afternoon, and they’ll be working over the coming days to determine what the structure loss is in the area,” Sutherland said.

He said up until now, they haven’t been able to account for damage as there’s still active fires burning in areas under evacuation order.

“We’re hoping to have those numbers very soon,” he said.

Forrest Tower, BCWS fire information officer, said a minimum of 120 wildland firefighters are dispatched to areas impacted by the Bush Creek fire. There are also over 100 structure protection personnel responding to the blaze from fire departments across the province.

According to BCWS, resources are responding to North Shuswap from Metchosin, Courtenay, Big White, Lake Cowichan, Gabriola, Sicamous, Smithers, Cowichan Bay, Hayes Creek, Salmon Arm, Kamloops, Abbotsford, Pritchard, and the Regional District of East Kootenay, among others.

“Several hundreds of people, all with different specialties and skills are working very hard to eliminate the further spread of the wildland part of this fire — so fire that's in the trees — as well as fire that's in and around structures, and that's where we rely on all of those structural fire departments to help out,” Tower said.

He said on Tuesday, crews were working from Adams Lake to Sorrento and Turtle Valley on various objectives.

He said a unit crew is working south of fire activity in Lee Creek, building a control line and using pumps, hoses or drip torches to extinguish the fire or remove fuel. According to BCWS, similar work is being done above Scotch Creek. On Saturday afternoon, a helicopter supported ground crews by bucketing in the area.

From Celista to Magna Bay, heavy equipment constructed a guard north of private properties.

Tower said structural firefighters are working on structure protection in Sorrento, setting up 18 sets of equipment on a number of properties. Structure protection is also being set up in Turtle Valley, as crews establish hose lays and build an equipment guard.

Tower said volunteer fire departments are assisting to conduct patrols of neighbourhoods and roadways, including overnight.

UPDATE: 7:24 p.m.

The BC Wildfire Service is responding to concerns raised by some North Shuswap residents about a planned ignition which happened before the Bush Creek East wildfire took its dangerous run last week, saying the operation ended up saving hundreds of properties.

Several residents in the North Shuswap area have expressed doubts the planned ignition which happened on Thursday night stopped the fire from spreading. Some believe it made the situation worse.

Stefani Koobrin, a resident whose family lives near Celista, expressed criticism about the planned ignition, saying the BC Wildfire Service lit the ignition prior to strong winds that served to fan the blaze.

“They lit a back burn and they knew that there was 30 kilometre winds coming and they did it two hours before it happened,” Koobrin said.

Forrest Tower, BCWS fire information officer, said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference the 10 kilometre ignition, which took place on Aug. 17 north of Lee Creek and Scotch Creek, was done to burn fuels between the communities and the Lower East Adams Lake wildfire.

Tower said the planned ignition was conducted with support from helicopter and ground crews while winds carried embers away from communities. He noted crews were tackling spot fires happening at the same time, independent of that ignition.

Tower said 24 hours later, on Aug. 18, a cold front began to impact the Bush Creek East wildfire, which took a significant run, jumping Adams River, burning along Shuswap Lake and over Highway 1. The fire overran the Lower East Adams Lake blaze, merging the two.

"The planned ignition did not cause any amount of this fire joining together. It was not the cause of the conflagration of those two fires, and it did not cause any impacts to structures," Tower said.

"In fact, again, as you can see by the perimeter of the Lee Creek area, it stopped that fire from spreading further and most likely was the only reason why all the homes that were saved in Lee Creek were.

"I very much understand that there is significant and devastating impact along the Squilax-Anglemont Road. It is due to an out of control wildfire event that probably rivals any fire event humans have witnessed in B.C. in a wildland fire setting.”

BC Wildfire Service has said the fire took a significant 20 kilometre run in less than 12 hours on Friday.

Tower said crews didn't conduct ignitions where there were no machine guards put in place, including in the Scotch Creek drainage — where the wind-fuelled fire later spread.

“The reason why there is not fire down right to the lake shore in Lee creek is because of that planned ignition," he said.

Tower said ideally, the ignition would have stopped further growth to the east, but the fire’s intensity caused the blaze to spread regardless.

He said planning an ignition requires a lot of research and decision making, which is all time stamped and recorded.

"We are constantly engaged in a lot of science behind our decisions, and it’s all tracked," Tower said.

Cliff Chapman, director of operations for the BC Wildfire Service, said during a press conference Monday that the ignition was a success.

“I want to be perfectly clear that planned ignition saved hundreds of homes and properties along the north shore,” said Chapman.

“We did our planned ignition under the conditions in which we plan for, and it was largely successful.”

UPDATE: 4:46 p.m.

Tim Lunden is one of the many North Shuswap residents who say they feel they are fighting a losing battle.

He said not only are they being forced to defend the homes in their communities against a raging wildfire, they are getting pushback from agencies who are supposed to help them during emergencies.

“My house would have burned down by now,” said Lunden, who lives on Squilax-Anglemont Road.

“We’ve got contractors with equipment and people who are actively saving homes.”

Jay Simpson, director for CSRD Electoral Area F, told Castanet to his knowledge there are about 70 firefighters working 12 hour shifts putting out fires and helping to save buildings on a 24/7 basis. He said there’s also about 300 community members who have stayed behind in evacuation order zones who are contributing to the fight against the wildfire.

Lunden said their efforts are being challenged by road blocks and the inability to get gas and diesel to run the equipment needed to continue their fight against hot spots and flare ups.

“They’re cutting us off,” Lunden says of the 100 plus residents who have pumps and generators that need constant filling. “We need to be able to access fuel in Scotch Creek and they need to let people in to help us.”

The Columbia Shuswap Regional District said on Tuesday that permits are required to access areas under evacuation order.

Derek Sutherland, CSRD Emergency Operations Centre director, said Tuesday the presence of people in evacuation orders is creating an unsafe environment for BC Wildfire Services crews.

“We've had to beef up security in the area to try to address this issue,” Sutherland said.

BCWS has reported that structural protection equipment in certain areas of the North Shuswap has been moved and taken, hampering firefighting efforts. BCWS said Tuesday said there is a minimum of 120 wildland firefighters and 105 structure protection firefighters working on the Bush Creek East wildfire, with additional resources incoming.

"The message that I want to provide to the community is that there are enough resources on this fire to actively engage whatever comes at them,” Sutherland said.

“And if there aren't enough resources, we have resources waiting to go into the communities to deal with this.”

However, without grassroots efforts, Lunden and his neighbours say they fear the damage would have been even more catastrophic.

“I owe those people everything,” says Kendall Marken, who has nothing but accolades for those who stayed behind and saved her home in Scotch Creek.

With two young children under the age of four, Marken evacuated when she was told to, but defends and applauds those who made the choice to stay.

“There is an assumption out there that there is this huge 300 foot wall of fire coming at these people and that they are idiots for staying, but that’s not the case. …These people are responsible adults who are staying behind to fight the very fightable fires that no one else is fighting.”

Marken said she doesn’t agree with increased police presence and said, “they’re painting them as criminals.”

Lunden said he knows there are many people who are doing their best within the parameters of their individual organizations.

He said the CSRD, RCMP, BCWS, local fire departments, contractors and community representatives should meet to co-ordinate their efforts and work together.

“I am more concerned that the current actions will cause vigilante behaviour which will only exacerbate a volatile situation,” Lunden says.

UPDATE: 4:05 p.m.

An electoral area director for the Columbia Shuswap Regional District said local residents and members of volunteer fire departments are working throughout a number of communities to fight the Bush Creek wildfire.

Jay Simpson, director for CSRD Electoral Area F, said to his knowledge there are about 70 firefighters working 12 hour shifts putting out fires and helping to save buildings on a 24/7 basis.

Simpson, who is in Lee Creek, told Castanet on Tuesday there’s also about 300 community members who have stayed behind in evacuation order zones who are contributing to the fight against the wildfire.

“There are active fires, and active community residents out there with what equipment they have, what water we have, with picks, shovels and rigs trying to save their homes and community,” Simpson said.

He said community members are fighting the fires with their own equipment, and many were running short on supplies like fuel.

“We are almost out of fuel. So pumps will not work, heavy equipment won't be able to make fire breaks around homes or businesses,” he said.

Simpson said locals are looking to get more food and water and things like steel toed boots for residents staying in areas under evacuation order, but police have been blocking supplies.

He added he is “stunned” that level of police response is happening.

“They are trying to starve us out, smoke us out. If we were not here, our communities would be so much worse off now. There would be so many more buildings that were just toasted,” Simpson said.

In a statement, RCMP said evacuation zones are set up to safeguard individuals not just from wildfires, but from other hazards, such as gas leaks, falling trees, and other unpredictable emergencies. Police noted people who enter evacuation zones can impede the smooth operation of emergency response efforts.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Kris Clark told Castanet that while police sympathize with those impacted by the wildfire, but their role is to secure evacuation order areas to ensure firefighters can work unobstructed, and to secure areas from criminality.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Forest Tower, BC Wildfire Service fire information officer, said he understands it’s frustrating to have things blocked at RCMP blockades but there’s a reason those are set up.

“People that have evacuated have trusted the local governments, and placed a lot of trust in them to ensure that when they come back to their house, their stuff is still there. And we have to maintain some order in these areas,” Tower said.

Derek Sutherland, CSRD EOC director, said he wanted to tell community members there are enough resources on the fire to “actively engage whatever comes at them.”

“If there aren't enough resources, we have resources waiting to go into the communities to deal with this. So community members can feel safe and secure that there are firefighters to deal with any issues that arise on their property if and when they choose to evacuate,” he said.

“I would encourage them to evacuate sooner rather than later.”

CSRD officials said conversations around supplies being ferried back and forth or being blocked is distracting from the main issue at hand — that these are areas under evacuation order.

Simpson said despite the challenges, locals are “persevering.”

“We're doing our best, we're not winning, we're holding ground with many of the fires, but there's no way that we are going to be able to protect everything. And I don't understand why we don't get more help from BC Wildfire and other fire departments in the area,” he said.

Tower said there is a minimum of 120 wildland firefighters working on the Bush Creek East wildfire as of Tuesday.

“We are getting more resources incoming,” Tower said.

“We received 66 wildland firefighters yesterday, and most likely more in terms of structural firefighters and wildland firefighters coming on to the site as we go forward.”

UPDATE 2:28 p.m.

The Columbia Shuswap Regional District is warning residents about misinformation spreading about areas under evacuation order.

The CSRD says it’s been made aware of emails and social media posts circulating saying permits are not required to enter evacuation order areas. That is not correct, says the CSRD.

“This information is false. Permits are required to get into any Evacuation Order Area,” said the regional district in a post to X, formerly known as Twitter.

According to the Shuswap Emergency Information Map, there are currently 11 evacuation orders in the CSRD affecting thousands of properties. There is also currently two evacuation alerts in effect, impacting more than 800 properties.

ORIGINAL 12:12 p.m.

Weather over the 41,000-hectare Bush Creek East wildfire burning in the North Shuswap is expected to reduce fire behaviour in the short term, according to the BC Wildfire Service.

In an update posted Tuesday morning, BCWS said the fire, which took a dangerous run to the south late last week, hasn't seen any significant growth on any flank in the last 48 hours.

The wildfire service said fire behaviour is expected to continue to decrease based on the current weather forecast, allowing crews to work closer to the blaze.

Weather on Tuesday is expected to be mainly cloudy with widespread smoke and potential afternoon showers.

This rainfall is expected to reduce wildfire behaviour and allow crews to work on direct suppression closer to the fire perimeter. However, BCWS said winds have the potential to cause trees to fall, and people in areas impacted by wildfire should exercise extreme caution.

Air operations are still restricted due to dense smoke in the area causing poor visibility.

BCWS said on Tuesday, there are structure protection task forces working in Scotch Creek, Lee Creek, Turtle Valley and Sorrento.

“Danger tree assessment and falling are ongoing along the Anglemont/Squilax road to Scotch Creek starting at the Squilax Airstrip,” BCWS said.

BCWS says crews were patrolling from Magna Bay to Turtle Valley overnight, and are working to extinguish a new lightning start that took place above Magna Bay at about 3 a.m.

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