Crews battle to contain 'very dangerous' B.C. fire
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Tuesday, August 4, 2009 9:35PM EDT
Firefighters in B.C. are still trying to get a handle on a raging wildfire that is burning on three different fronts.
The massive 900-hectare fire lit up the side of Mount McLean overnight, creating a spectacular light show on the slope above the town.
Crews performed a controlled burn overnight to try and remove fuel from the path of the fire, but said it was still uncontained as of Tuesday morning.
"This is a very dangerous wildfire still," Garry Horley, fire information officer for the District of Lillooet, told CTV News Channel.
"In fact we're now fighting this fire on three different fronts, each of which is moving independently."
He said the top priority for firefighters is the east flank, just above the town of Lillooet.
Fire officials have made use of a "pretty successful" controlled burn, Horley said, in front of the path of the fire.
"We want to remove fuel in front of the path of the fire, so it has nothing left to burn," Horley said.
He said firefighters had completed three-quarters of the controlled burn late Monday and it was hoped they could finish tonight.
Horley also said high temperatures and a month-long severe drought have created prime conditions for the fire to thrive.
And because the fire is burning on the side of a mountain, there's very little area where ground crews can actually approach the fire. As a result, most of the battle is being fought from the air, with 16 helicopters helping out.
"We're seeing fire intensity that is rather uncommon," he said.
Most of the 2,500 residents of Lillooet have been evacuated. Those remaining have been put on alert and warned to be ready to go at any time, said Jerry Sucharyna, another information officer for the district.
He said the fire is approaching the community but has so far been kept at a safe distance.
"They've ensured that it hasn't spread to the District of Lillooet. It remains about a one-kilometre radius from the municipal boundaries," Sucharyna said.
Federal assistance ready: Harper
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that federal disaster assistance is available for B.C. as it fights hundreds of fires.
"Obviously, this is a very worrisome situation. We're watching this very closely," Harper said.
"We're always willing to provide whatever resources we can provide."
Harper made the comments in metro Vancouver during a press conference with B.C Premier Gordon Campbell.
Campbell said applying for aid falls behind protecting people and property on the province's agenda.
Harper said the federal relief act kicks in automatically once a certain amount of damage is done.
"Do we expect it to be triggered in this case? I would think so," he said.
"But obviously the concern right now is less. . .about cost and just about making sure that this problem is effectively tackled."
B.C. has experienced more than 2,000 fires this summer, mostly due to unseasonably high temperatures and dry weather.
Evacuees are reportedly being bused to Kamloops. Three nearby First Nations communities have also been evacuated.
Firefighters from as far away as Quebec and Ontario have been brought in to help fight the nearby wildfires, and officials said Monday they were considering bringing in help from as the U.S. and even Australia.
Other wildfires burning elsewhere in the province have also forced evacuations.
About 2,500 residents near Okanagan Lake spent a second night away from home over the weekend due to a growing fire on Terrace Mountain near Vernon. And roughly 120 residents of Brookmere, 120 kilometres south of Kamloops, have fled because of a third fire.
Elsewhere in the province, residents were ordered out of their homes near Bella Coola late Monday as two fired burned on the Central Coast. And just as crews contained a wildfire on Blackcomb Mountain above Whistler Village on Monday, another blaze broke out.
Horley said rain, and lots of it, is what the province needs most.
"It's going to take an awful lot to cool this fire down and there will be crews on this fire until winter I'm sure," he said.
"It's a very large fire, it's stubborn and we have to get control of the perimetres and mop up the inside of the fire as the days progress."