Firefighters increase containment on wildfire near Canal Flats

  • Aug. 22, 2014 1:00 p.m.

The exhaust from a forest fire near Canal Flats floods the sky with smoke.           Photo by Lizzie Midyette
The exhaust from a forest fire near Canal Flats floods the sky with smoke. Photo by Lizzie Midyette

By Steve Hubrecht

Pioneer Staff

Firefighters continue to battle what has now become a complex of wildfires south and east of Canal Flats, with containment increasing on the White Tail Brook fire, the largest fire among them.

The White Tail Brook fire was, as of Pioneer press time, 1960 hectares in size and 85 per cent contained, according to B.C. Southeast Fire Centre information officer Jordan Turner.

Today were working on extinguishing hot spots that were found in a scan and mopping up the northeast and western flanks on the White Tail Brook fire, said Mr. Turner on Wednesday, August 20th, adding there were 156 firefighters and four helicopters working on the complex that day.

Rain during last weekend and early this week was aiding containment efforts, according to Mr. Turner.

Compared with the rest of southern B.C. this area really doesnt get a lot of rainfall, but there has been some measurable rain here and it has helped, he said.

Enough of the fire is contained, that as of Saturday, August 16th the Whiteswan forest service road has been reopened, meaning people can once again go to Whiteswan Provincial Park and Lussier Hot Springs, and the corresponding area restriction (which had kept paddlers off sections of the Kootenay River near the fire) had also been lifted. There is, however, a closure on the Whiteswan forest service road at kilometre 32, just past Whiteswan Lake.

The White Tail Brook fire is part of a group of seven wildfires, collectively known as the White complex. Most began as spot fires resulting from lightning strikes in late July. The second largest wildfire in the group, the White Rock fire, is two kilometres east of the White River and is 1000 hectares and is 60 per cent contained.

Other fires in the White complex that are near the valley include the Little Elk Creek fire, 27 kilometres northeast of Invermere, not far from the Kootenay River, which is 240 hectares and 25 per cent contained; and the Shark Tooth Mountain fire 17 kilometres southeast of Canal Flats, which is 130 hectares and quite literally on top of a mountain ridge.

Theres no containment on that fire (Shark Tooth Mountain), said Mr. Turner. Were monitoring it and have control lines on the northeast flank. Right now a burn plan is being developed to pull the fires to these control lines because right now its up on really steep, dangerous terrain that is inaccessible to firefighters.

One other wildfire in the complex, the Whiteswan fire, which had been burning adjacent to the southern edge of Whiteswan Lake, only grew to five hectares before being fully contained. This fire is currently in-patrol, which means that despite it begin fully contained, firefighters are checking it daily to make sure it does not flare up again.

The White Tail Brook fire is not only the largest fire in the White complex, but also the largest in the Southeast Fire Centre (which includes the entire Kootenay region) and has blanketed the Upper Columbia Valley in smoke and haze for the most of the past month. Flames from the fire have been visible from Canal Flats, about 10 kilometres due west of the fire. The fire was discovered on Sunday, July 27th and has been growing steadily ever since. As more fires began in the area closer to the Whiteswan forest service road in early August the Southeast Fire Centre shut the road, leading B.C. Parks to evacuate Whiteswan Provincial Park.

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