Firefighters extinguish a small grass fire on the side of Highway 3 on Wednesday outside Fernie. RDEK photo

Lamb Creek fire grows to 2,000 hectares

Evacuation alerts lifted in ʔaq̓am community, east side of Lake Koocanusa.

Evacuation alerts were rescinded for the ʔaq̓am community and the Mission Fort Steele area on Tuesday, while BC Wildfire Service crews continue to tackle other blazes throughout the region.

The St. Mary’s River fire has been 100 per cent contained as of Wednesday morning and is currently in mop-up with 18 personnel on site, according to Karlie Shaughnessy, a fire information officer with the BCWS.

South of Cranbrook, the Lamb Creek fire continues to burn and has grown close to 2,000 hectares. Jameson Mailloux, a fire information officer, says there are over 169 personnel working on it, along with 21 pieces of heavy equipment and air support from tankers and helicopters.

BCWS crews literally fought fire with fire, conducting some arial ignition over the weekend over a 200-hectare area, and continued with some hand-ignition on Wednesday.

“So the purpose of that it to burn fuels between our guard lines and the front of the fire,” said Mailloux, “in the event that the fire does pick up in intensity due to the fuels on the ground and the weather behaviour in order to decrease that intensity if the fire was to continue towards our guard lines.”

He added that the fuel load on the ground has the potential for increased fire activity depending on how the fire behaves.

“We do have the potential for increased fire activity due to the extremely high buildup index,” he said, “which gives us a specific number about what sort of fuels are across the landscape, so the BUI [Buildup Index] they’re extremely high, some of the biggest on record, so that —in conjunction with the hot and dry weather over the last few days — is why we had that increase in fire activity.”

According to the latest map of the Lamb Creek fire, it has burned around the back of the mountain in the Lamb Creek are and up Moyie lake towards Munroe Lake.

Growth is usually determined by fuel loads and winds, Mailloux said.

“In terms of fire behaviour, it’s usually quite dictated by the wind,” he said, “so we’ve had a consistent southwest wind, however with this new low-pressure gradient; this upper trough that’s slowly moving, we expect a potential for wind shifts to come out of the north west, north east, so that always drives our fire behaviour.”

Evacuation orders issued by the RDEK are still in place for the Moyie and Munroe Lake communities.

Down at the Canada/US border near Lake Koocanusa, a wildfire that has burned 927 hectares in Canada is currently being actioned by 38 personnel, six pieces of heavy equipment and one helicopter.

“The fire is definitely still active. Crews are extending their control lines as needed to prevent any north-ward movement,” said Shaughnessy.

An evacuation order on the west side of the lake was recently downgraded to an evacuation alert, while an evacuation alert on the east side of the lake was rescinded.

On Tuesday, the RDEK issued an evacuation alert for the districts of Sparwood and Elkford in response to the Quinn Creek fire that is burning remotely to the west of both communities.

The Quinn Creek fire is estimated at 7,513 hectares and has 19 personnel, five pieces of heavy equipment and one helicopter working on it.

“It’s been active,” said Shaughnessy. “It’s moved along to the beginning of the upper Brule Creek drainage. So air tankers and helicopters have established a retardant line on the ridge on the east of the drainage.”

The evacuation alert includes three mines operated by Teck Resources — Fording River operations, Greenhills operations and Line Creek operations.

Nic Milligan, Manager, Community & Aboriginal Affairs, says employee safety is the top priority for Teck Resources.

“So we’re closely monitoring the situation,” he said, “given the evacuation alert and all our operations are ready to respond immediately to ensure employee safety in the event there’s an evacuation order.

We continue to share information with our employees and we’re encouraging them and their families to be prepared should an evacuation order be issued.”

Fernie and Hosmer firefighters responded to three small grass fire on Highway 3 a few kilometres away from the city on Wednesday. According to an RDEK release, the fires look like they might have been caused by something dragging off a vehicle and causing sparks. Crews quickly extinguished the three fires and did a thorough check of the ditch lines.

Over at the provincial border, the Kenow fire continues to burn in Waterton Park and has been spreading into the foothills, reaching a size of 42,000 hectares.

The fire danger rating remains high to extreme in the Cranbrook region, says Shaughnessy.

“In terms of the bans and restrictions that are currently in place within the Southeast Fire Centre, they will remain so until the public is otherwise notified,” she said. “We have a small system coming through the next day or so and there’s not much rain associated with it, so we’ll see how much we do see.”

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