Cariboo Fire Information officer Noelle Kekula saw the Hanceville-Riske Creek wildfire for the first time in person last Saturday afternoon and said she realized it will be months before it is fully extinguished.
“It is so large,” she said from the Alexis Creek district forestry office Tuesday morning. “It will burn until we get snow on the ground and even in the winter we may still see patches of smoke coming out of those fires if there is not enough snow on them. We are in these fires for the long haul.”
The wildfire, which is an estimated 131,958 hectares, is so much work to manage, she added.
“Even if people don’t see active fires, if there is smoke you can bet there are a lot of hot spots within that smoke. We will continue to work and increase some containment, but these are long, long project fires and people should not let their guards down.”
Cognizant that everyone wants to get home, Kekula said she appreciates how people are feeling.
“Most people out here didn’t leave, but it’s tricky. They cannot go to town to get food because they cannot get back in. The whole food situation has become quite tricky. We are getting food trucks in and all that, but it’s not ideal.”
On Tuesday, the fire was being attacked by 145 firefighters and 14 helicopters along with heavy equipment on the ground.
“If this forecast holds, which is hot and dry with winds, and the fire within the fire ramps up, we could see it go anywhere,” she said. We all saw it happen on Saturday, July 15 when we had a bunch of guards on all of those fires and Mother Nature decided to make a mockery of us.”
Because the fire is so large, it would need a one-kilometre wide guard instead of the usual 100-foot guard, to ensure it doesn’t spread further, she added.
Kekula worked and lived at Alexis Creek between 1993 to 1997.
Returning as the fire information officer for fires in the region has been surreal, she said.
“When I was here it was still green. The Douglas-fir beetle hadn’t hit yet and Lee’s Corner was still alive and well. It’s been mixed emotions as I run into so many old friends. The people out here are so resilient and if I had my way I would not be reacquainting with them under these circumstances.”
Kekula began covering the fires west of the Fraser River as the information officer yesterday (Monday) and has been meeting with First Nations and non-First Nations in the communities.
Tuesday morning she said it was getting smokier and she wondered if it was being caused by an inversion.
“We saw activity on the fires and are closely monitoring in spots where we expect that it might flare up again,” she said. “We also have structure protection crews in areas where there are properties and homes.”
As she begins updating information about the fires on the BC Wildfire website, Kekula said she could almost write four pages alone on the Hanceville-Riske Creek fire because it is so big.
In the future, Kekula will also be giving information updates on the White Lake wildfire west of the Fraser River, while fire information officer Melinda Paplawski will report on the White Lake fire east of the Fraser River.
On Tuesday afternoon, Kekula was scheduled to drive to Puntzi to meet with the fire information officer who is covering the Kleena Kleene and Chezacut wildfires.
For those two fires, the BC Wildfire website noted the following on Tuesday morning:
Kleena Kleene wildfire
The wildfire is 50 per cent contained and an estimated 5,318 ha. Crews are establishing water delivery and mopping up along guards, while working to increase containment on the east side of the fire.
An estimated 10,194 ha., the fire is 25 per cent contained. Crews are patrolling along the guards for hot spots and work has been done to complete the machine guard in the northwest area.
There is no information on resources for either of these fires, except to say the Kleena Kleene wildfire is being fought by firefighters, local heavy equipment operators and helicopters.