A 99-hectare wildfire at Soda Creek, ignited by a passing train Sunday, was 80 per cent contained by Tuesday, giving local property owners reason to breath easier.
“We dodged a huge one,” said Diane Dunaway, who along with her husband Dave, own one of two properties that had the fire in their backyard. “The best in human nature came out and we’re feeling so very fortunate.”
The fire started Sunday afternoon after a CN train went through, igniting small fires along a two-mile stretch of the track running through the Dunaway’s property and the neighbouring Dunlevy Ranch.
Around 3:15 p.m. Diane called to alert the Kaufmans of Dunlevy Ranch 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.”
Response to the fire was quick.
The newly formed McLeese Lake fire dept. arrived first on the ground with two trucks and five personnel.
“Water bombers were already there, but no one was on the ground yet,” said McLeese Lake volunteer firefighter Ian Hicks. “We just started going up and down the side of the tracks to extinguish the flames.”
Soon afterwards, a Cariboo Fire Centre wildfire branch crew from 100 Mile House showed up.
They were returning from fighting the Euchinko Lake fire west of Quesnel and happened to be in McLeese Lake when the call came in about the fire.
Because the Cariboo Fire Centre received so many calls about the fire from the public it didn’t take long to deploy more than 30 wildfire management branch personnel, 10 air tankers, three helicopters and heavy equipment, said CFC communications specialist Sandra Wagner.
The Dunlevy Ranch’s irrigation system was crucial in tackling the wildfire, said Linda Kaufman.
“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,” Linda said.
By Monday crews were building a road at the top of the hill above the properties to get at the fire and bringing in more heavy equipment.
Additionally, four water bombers, retrieving water from McLeese Lake, worked all morning.
It was impressive watching the bombers in action, said Hicks who lives at the lake.
“They would fly in formation, take turns getting the water from the lake, fly out, drop the water on the fire in sequence, and return in about two minutes,” he said.
When asked if it’s the first wildfire near their ranch, Linda said in the 20 years she’s lived there she can recall another wildfire. It was caused by a BC Rail train.
Diane praised their neighbours, some in their 70s, who in the 38 C heat were hooking up fire 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 as well, but luckily had been moved the night before.
Diane also credited outside support, saying it has 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 Sunday, and really good leadership with the forestry guys and the ground crew.”
More than 50 Wildfire Branch personnel remained on the ground Tuesday, extinguishing hot spots with continued assistance from three helicopters.
Mop up is expected to begin Wednesday and continue through Thursday.