By SteveHubrecht

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The Horsethief Creek wildfire continues to stay top of mind (and its smoke front of view) for most Columbia Valley residents wondering when life will find normalcy again. But it doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon.

The latest information from the BC Wildfire Service shows the fire is now mapped at 3,905 hectares and still out of control. The size increased from 1,975 hectares due to more accurate data and gradual fire growth over several days. There has been no change to evacuation orders and alerts. However, in the Nipika Mountain Resort area, three properties have been downgraded to an alert. There are also area restrictions in place.

Approximately 85 personnel are actioning the Horsethief Creek fire with the help of 13 pieces of heavy equipment and 13 helicopters shared with Yearling Creek and Mia Creek.

Crews have been focusing on indirect attacks on the northwest side of the fire and are heavily attacking spot fires past guards using ground personnel and aerial resources. Personnel are also maintaining containment lines on the east side, patrolling and mopping up along the established guard. Work on the south side continues on the creation of guards as well as mop up and patrol.
There has been no report of damaged structures or injuries to personnel.

The Horsethief Creek fire began burning on Monday, July 24 and has been casting smoke plumes over the valley, with flames at times visible from the valley bottom ever since. It initially grew rapidly, but for several days late last week and into early this week it seemed to hold steady.  

On Wednesday, Aug. 2 the mapped size of the fire nearly doubled, leaping up to nearly 2,000 hectares. 

A provincial Incident Management Team has been assigned to the Horsethief Creek fire, and the nearby Yearling Creek wildfire (on the southern boundary of Kootenay National Park) and Mia Creek wildfire (east of Canal Flats). Collectively the three fires are known as the Horsethief Complex.

In an update posted last week, Horsethief Complex operations section chief Wes McKay explained that wildland firefighters had put a halt to planned ignitions at Yearling Creek fire because of very hot and dry conditions. 

“We would likely see more fire behaviour (at Yearling) than ideal (if planned ignitions were lit),” said McKay.  “We’ve decided to postpone for a day or two until the weather conditions are in our favour.”

On the Horsethief Creek fire, crews have been working to create an equipment line and pursue direct fire attack options at the bottom of the Bruce Creek drainage. 

“They were having very good success . . . the fire behaviour down in there has been minimal in the last few days, and that’s given us the opportunity to do some close direct attack type options,” said McKay. “We also had crews up in the alpine. They would be working on the spread (of the fire). We were able to get on it early with (helicopter) buckets. We followed up with crew support. They (the crews) were working direct attack on the top of the ridge.” 

This would have been visible from Panorama Mountain Resort, explained McKay.  

“We’re going to continue with those efforts until we’re feeling comfortable that we have taken care of that activity, and then we’ll be looking to move lower down into the Horsethief drainage,” he said. 

On Thursday, Aug. 3, smoke blanketed the valley bottom, making it hard to even see the surrounding mountains from Invermere. Horsethief Complex incident commander Tom Flanagan spoke about the Mia Creek fire, the smoke from which was visible the day before hanging behind Chisel Peak and the Fairmont Range.

“We had some increased fire behaviour (on the Mia Creek fire) . . . on the southwest flank burning up high into the alpine. It’s putting up a lot of smoke that we’re going to be seeing for several days,” he said. The team is working to put a containment line, said Flanagan, adding that hard access and steep ground are combining to limit the ability to put ground crews on the Mia Creek fire.

The Horsethief Creek fire had, at that point, seen significant winds and high temperatures, continued Flanagan, saying “it continues to burn within the Law Creek drainage. We have had no issues with fire leaving our expected perimeter. It is still within the valley.” 

He noted the firefighters have had some challenges with the Horsethief Creek fire in the Adriana Creek drainage, but that crews and helicopter buckets were responding.

“When looking at the fire from Panorama, the fire has not come across the ridge line. We have controls in place and people on the ridge line monitoring and bucket machines putting water into bladders and working all fire that’s at the top of the ridge. We don’t anticipate to see any fire in the Panorama valley,” said Flanagan.

“I anticipate for the next several days and weeks we are going to continue to see a lot of smoke as the valley continues to be on fire,” he added.

On Friday, Aug. 4 Horsethief Complex ignitions specialist Mike Morrow outlined that the firefighters would be doing a planned ignition on the southeast corner of Horsethief Creek near Neave Creek. The planned ignition was to be 400 hectares, and was intended to help bring the fire down to where crews could more safely and easily work on it. 

The BC Wildfire Service subsequently reported that crews were successful in these planned ignitions.  The on-site conditions remained favourable and the objective of gaining containment along the Andrean drainage was accomplished.

Ground crews will be conducting mop-up operations along the guard where the ignition occurred for the next several days.

On August 6, crews conducted a planned ignition operation on the northwestern flank using a combination of aerial and hand ignitions. 

Heavy equipment has been used to build a guard in the Horsethief canyon, and aircraft is delivering water to areas where it is unsafe for ground crews to operate.

The BC Wildfire Service reminds everyone to stay away from these areas and urges people not to operate drones in active fire zones, which is illegal and extremely unsafe.

(Photo by Victoria Page)

(Photo by Victoria Page)