Over the past week, the Southeast Fire Centre has seen numerous accounts of extreme fire behaviour, which led to a total backcountry access ban going into effect Saturday, September 2nd at 1 p.m. The Rocky Mountain Natural Resource District backcountry access ban was put in place after BC Wildfire Service considered weather conditions, access routes, active fires and the current fire danger rating.
“The fire behaviour that we have been seeing on our active wildfires is unprecedented,” said a BC Wildfire official. “The whole Rocky Mountain Natural Resource District is a very, very big concern right now.”
Under the backcountry access ban, the public is no longer able to go into the backcountry for any reason other than accessing permanent residence. However, the ban does not cover National Parks and BC Parks still is allowing access to the following front country parks: Dry Gulch, James Chabot, Premier Lake, Wasa, Jimsmith Lake, Kikomun Creek, Mount Fernie, Moyie Lake, Norbury Lake, Yahk, Columbia Lake.
Confusion arose over the weekend when the ban on lake access was lifted and many were left unsure if they could access waterways.
“What people can do now is they can access water, so bodies of water, lakes and rivers, as long as they access it through private land, municipal land, highways, BC Parks front country boat launch facilities. Once you’re on the water you can’t access Crown land,” said Carlee Kachman fire information officer.
The Rocky Mountain Natural Resource District will continue to have a backcountry access ban until the public is otherwise notified. The BC Wildfire service will take into consideration wildfire behaviour, precipitation, and the fire danger rating before lifting the ban.
Anyone found in the backcountry during this time may be subject to a $767 fine and be held responsible for all firefighting costs and associated costs if they contributed to a wildfire.
While the ban was put into place to protect the public and reduce the chance of more wildfire starts in the region, Wildfire service has been working tirelessly to control the active fires in the area. Currently, a crew of 30 people is working on the Kootenay and White fire, crews have the blaze 75 per cent contained and it is believed to have been human-caused.
On Sunday, September 3rd, residents and visitors to the Valley may have seen a plume of smoke appear behind Mount Swansea. That smoke is a combination of the Mount King George Monitor fire among many others throughout the province.
“It’s about 45 kilometres to the east. That fire is near Height of the Rockies Provincial Park. It’s estimated at 203 hectares in size so you guys could technically be seeing some smoke in the east side there. It’s a combination of all the fires in the Caribou, in the U.S. Washington, Oregon, Kamloops Fire Centre and then local smoke. It’s bad everywhere,” said Ms. Kachman.
Crews have been pulled off the White River fire that is currently burning at an estimated 12,000 hectares. Due to aggressive fire behaviour the firefighters were removed for their safety, currently, the White River fire is 47 kilometres northeast of Canal Flats.
Due to that fire behaviour, the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) issued an evacuation order for White Swan Lake Provincial Park including all campgrounds.
“The BC Wildfire service who are the ones out fighting the fires and have the technical expertise and experience in fire behaviour are the ones that make recommendations based on their expertise. So they recommend to us and then we issue the order or the alert,” said Loree Duczek communications manager for RDEK.
The RDEK has issued further evacuation orders for Moyie North, Moyie South, New Gate/ West Koocanusa. As well as evacuation alerts for the east side of Koocanusa, Mission Road Fort Steele, as well as for 36 residents on Aqam Reserve.
At this time there are no evacuation alerts on for any of the communities in the Columbia Valley but the public is asked to be aware and stay informed. For more information regarding fire bans and road, access visit http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/wildfire-status.