BC wildfire crews are facing “very unique circumstances” battling the Canim Lake fire, residents and business owners in the area were told Friday evening.
BC Wildfire Services incident commander Hugh Murdoch said the 1,250-hectare blaze comes with a multitude of difficulties, including unfavourable weather, stretched resources and steep and rocky terrain of the hillside where the fire is burning out of control.
“We’re not sending crews three-quarters of the way up that mountain with that fire,” Murdoch told about 40 locals at a meeting at South Point Resort Friday. “They will not be effective, they will not be safe and you can’t get them out quickly if you need to.”
Crews have started work on a guard that will run parallel to Canim Lake Road South, around 100 metres up the hillside. Murdoch said it will be wide enough to lay hose and sprinklers along once it’s complete. In addition to air water attacks from some of the 14 helicopters, helicopters will also be dropping retardant vertically down the steep hillside slope.
Murdoch said those in the area “should feel quite comfortable” with the efforts and approaches to get such a difficult fire under control.
The fire has been burning since June 30 when it was started by an intense lightning storm. It has prompted evacuation alerts for hundreds of properties in the Canim Lake, Ruth Lake and Forest Grove communities, as well as the Canim Lake Band.
There were no clear answers for several local resort owners, such as Leanne Sallenback of South Point Resort, who were hoping for guidance as to what to tell potential guests in the coming weeks.
“There’s no reason to think that the Cariboo isn’t going to experience a lot of smoke for the foreseeable future,” Murdoch said, noting that he can’t provide advice on how owners should run their businesses.
“We’re just getting into summer.”
Kukpi7 Helen Henderson of the Tsq’escen’emc (Canim Lake Band) encouraged resort owners to reach out to others in the tourism and hospitality industry who experienced the wildfires in 2017.
“The way we combat confusion and fear is with direct information,” Henderson said, noting the band has set up a command centre with daily updates to help keep their 250 members up to date.
“Our doors are always open, if you get a chance, stop in, have a coffee.”
Canim Lake Band member Dawn McGrath said for the resorts – and other businesses and residents in the area – it comes down to one’s sense of comfort and risk, which can vary from person to person.
“If I had to evacuate my customers would I be able to do that in under half an hour?” McGrath asked.
She said that focusing on having a clear safety plan in place for their members, rather than an inundation of information day after day, is an approach that has worked well for the band.
“We’re trying to be cognizant about overloading people with information and making sure they have a safety plan and they are aware of what that plan is,” McGrath said. “Look in your vehicle and see if you’ve got enough stuff in there to last three days. If you don’t, you’re not ready. Have a plan with your family as to where you’re going to check in and what your timeline is for checking in.”
Murdoch agreed that being prepared is an important approach, along with increased fire safety on individual’s properties and houses, especially during a long haul on alert as crews battle the “challenging” fire on the hillside.
“We’re not expecting a quiet weekend, we’re not expecting a quiet week,” he said. “We’re not expecting a quiet summer.”