Update: fire crews use water from McLeese Lake to fight Soda Creek wildfire

A wildfire at Soda Creek as seen from Highway 97 on Sunday evening. - Wanda Shep
A wildfire at Soda Creek as seen from Highway 97 on Sunday evening.
— image credit: Wanda Shep

The Cariboo Fire Centre is responding to a 12-hectare wildfire at Soda Creek, west of Highway 97.

On Monday morning crews began hitting the fire with smaller water bombers, retrieving water from nearby McLeese Lake, said Linda Kaufman of Dunlevy Ranch, one of two properties with the wildfire in their back yard.

"It's like a battle zone here," Kaufman said Monday morning. "Air crews are flying over and the ground crew has been here all night."

The fire started Sunday afternoon after a CN train went through the properties, igniting small fires along a two-mile stretch of the track, Kaufman said.

Dave and Diane Dunaway live west of the Kaufmans and around 3:15 p.m. Diane called, letting the neighbours know about the fire.

"Dave was sitting in the living room and called me over telling me to look toward the end of our property," Diane recalled. "Then all of a sudden it started backlighting along the tracks, there was this trail of smoke, it was unbelievable."

The railway tracks run through the middle of their property.

A fire crew returning to 100 Mile House from fighting a fire up north on Sunday, happened to be in McLeese Lake when the call came in about the fire and was able to arrive on scene pretty quickly, Diane said.

By Sunday evening, the Cariboo Fire Centre had deployed more than 30 wildfire management branch personnel, ten air tankers, three helicopters and heavy equipment to action the fire.

Crews also relied heavily on the ranch's irrigation system, Kaufman said.

"We were able to provide all the water for the crews, Our irrigation system can draw 550 gallons a minute from McLeese Lake. It saved us."

On Monday crews built a road at the top of the hill above the properties to get at the fire and brought in more heavy equipment.

When asked if it's the first wildfire near their ranch, Kaufman said "heck no."

In the 20 years she's lived there she can recall another wildfire caused by a BC Rail train.

Diane praised their neighbours, some in their 70s, who in the 38 C heat were hooking up hoses and helping the Dunaways get their horses put away.

Up until the day before, the Kaufmans' cattle had been grazing above the tracks in the Dunaway's pasture.

Luckily they had been moved the night before.

Diane also credited outside support, saying it has also been overwhelming.

"I feel like these guys are super professional and we have tons of resources," she said. "There's people here from West Fraser, CN Rail guys who stayed through the night, and really good leadership with the forestry guys and the ground crew."

By noon, there were still flareups and the wind had been picking up, which was a concern, but the fire was wanting to move up the mountain away from the properties.

"We're lucky the fires were all on the upper side of the track because all the houses are on the bottom side," Diane said. "Other than a lot of smoke and charcoaled trees, things are going in the right direction."


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