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Downed tree on power line sparks wildfire in West Chilcotin, north end of Sapeye Lake

The fire spread across Mosely Creek and northeast to the southeast side of Water Lily Lake

A wildfire in the West Chilcotin that started on Oct. 27 from a downed tree on a power line kept local residents and firefighters busy for several days.

During a windstorm on Wednesday, Oct. 26 the tree came down and broke a power line on private property at the north end of Sapeye Lake in the middle of the night, said Joe Cortese, a member of the West Branch Fire Cache Society, noting the wind gusts were measuring up to 120 km an hour at Horn Lake where he lives.

“The tree hit the line and it must have created an arc because the fire started right underneath where the tree was,” Cortese told Black Press Media. “The fire went into the grass and then into a mature Spruce stand and blew through that quite quickly.”

It was not until the next evening, Thursday, that smoke was noticed by a hunter who was heading home to Bella Coola.

The hunter returned to Tatla Lake and called the fire in, Cortese said.

”Forestry didn’t have any resources and referred him to the local fire cache group and that was how I became aware of it.”

Through the fire cache group, several people store firefighting equipment at home and the equipment for West Branch is at Cortese’s home.

“We went and got a pump and hose and started spraying water on the fire which was adjacent to a house right there. The wind was actually blowing the fire away from the house, but the wind was really active.”

By about 8 or 9 p.m. the crew left after knocking the fire down and stopping it from getting to the house.

The next day BC Wildfire crews attended from Alexis Creek and requested to do a flyover.

Cortese and one of the Alexis Creek fire technicians flew with White Saddle Air to assess the fire.

“We could see it had gone quite a ways. It was bounded by wet lands, but it had jumped across a natural wet boundary,” Cortese said.

The crew then focused its efforts on the southeast side of Water Lily Lake along the Water Lily Lake Recreation Trail because the fire had jumped across Mosely Creek, northeast of where the fire had started at Sapeye Lake.

Patrice Gordon and her husband live at Horn Lake and were part of the firefighting crew who went back on Sunday to finish pumping more water on the Water Lily Lake area fire.

“We found the Water Lily Lake fire Saturday morning- we’d been focusing on the Sapeye fire,” Gordon said.

By Monday, Cortese said the wind had subsided and the weather was cooperating.

“According to Patrice the uncontained part on the east side is out now and it is snowing today (Monday). The wind has turned around and is actually blowing out of the north - that is really good news.”

Patrice said she had put out a few hot spots Monday afternoon and provided a video that showed smoke still emerging from the Sapeye Lake fire.

Cortese said some of the other fire cache people who attended were Roy Paul, chair of the fire cache society, which is a registered society, and Doug Schuk.

In a Facebook post Gordon thanked Cortese, Deborah Kannegiesser, Kimberley and Rob Ikebuchi, Doug Schuk, Roy Paul, Greg West, Rob Coetzee, plus the two professional firefighters Evan and Kelsey and Bob Mitchell from the Ministry of Forests in Alexis Creek.

A hydro crew was assigned at approximately 5 a.m. Saturday, left the line room just before 6:00 a.m. and with travel time from the line room to the site being over three hours, they arrived on scene at 9:30 a.m, said Dave Mosure of BC Hydro.

“Once on site the crews’ immediate priority was to ensure the scene was safe. There was no active fire when crews arrived. Temporary repairs were made and power was restored approximately noon on Saturday.”

Mosure said the outage impacted three customers.

Permanent repairs, including replacing a scorched pole, will follow due to access challenges which will require vegetation, line and pole replacement crews, Mosure added noting significant tree root structure weakening has occurred due to the extended dry weather the province has experienced this year.

“Add in the wind events and these trees are failing and causing outages like the one above.”

Earlier in October wildfire crews worked on a 200-hectare wildfire 17 kilometres south of Puntzi Lake west of Bidwell Lakes.

READ MORE: Crews tackling 200-hectare wildfire south of Puntzi Lake

Members of the different fire cache groups received equipment through a Canadian Red Cross grant.

Equipment such as a couple of pumps, hoses and hand tools is dispersed through different communities such as West Branch, Tatla Lake, Tatlayoko, Eagle Lake, Kleena Kleene, Piper Lake and Puntzi Lake.

Often Gordon posts photographs on Facebook of riding her horse and 90 per cent of them are from the Water Lily Trail.

“It shakes the soul to see it burning,” she told Black Press Media late Saturday night.

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Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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