A helicopter drops water on the small forest fire on Angle Mountain in the North Shuswap on Friday July 21. -image credit: Shuswap Emergency Program

Extreme hazard in the backcountry

Officials urge citizens to use caution in the hot, dry conditions.

If you go out in the woods today, be careful and keep your eyes open.

It’s going to be a long, hot weekend and with the already high to extreme wildfire risk, Wildfire BC officials and local backcountry user groups are asking everyone to be extra vigilant in the backcountry, at home and on the roads.

Kamloops Fire Centre Fire Information Officer Max Birkner says that while officials have considered closing the backcountry, there are benefits to having eyes in the forest.

But he says with grasslands and brush so dry, ATVs should stay on the trails and not be parked in grass or brush when hot.

Those driving campers, RVs or other vehicles with chains need to make sure they’re not dragging on the road, and at home, people should be equally cautious when using grinders, welding or even mowing the lawn.

“Avoid any activity that generates heat and could cause sparks,” he says.

Outdoor enthusiasts also need to remember that campfires are strictly prohibited at this time and will result in stiff fines for those who do not comply.

Propane fire rings are permitted as long as they are CSA-approved and the flame does not go higher than 15 centimetres.

Smoke blanketing the region earlier in the week was emanating from Washington State and the Elephant Hill fire which caused the evacuation of Clinton. It was expected to clear by the weekend, allowing for even higher temperatures.

Discovered on July 20, the Angle Mountain wildfire above St. Ives continues to be held to eight hectares.

As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, 28 firefighters were working on the ground with air support available if needed.

“The very key point here is the steep terrain, which is making fighting the fire very difficult,” said Birkner. “This type of fire can take a very long time to contain because of the steep terrain.”

Also suspected to be lightning-caused, the Mt. Chase fire remains at eight hectares and is under control, says Birkner, noting patrols will keep an eye on the fire, which is remote and not threatening any structures.

“They really hit it hard at the beginning and due to the early action, they got it under control very quickly,” he said, pointing out with the number of aircraft flying around the area, there will be many eyes on the fire. “Smoke might flare up a bit in the afternoon, as it always does.”

The Shuswap Trail Alliance warns that all trails in the Shuswap are within the extreme fire rating area, and asks that backcountry users obey all trail closures. Meanwhile, Salmon Arm ATV Club president Allen Walker says he is staying out of the backcountry for the time being.

“I just know that officially, the bush is not shut down, but they are discouraging people from going out…,” said Walker. “I personally haven’t been out. I just couldn’t live with myself if something bad happened.”

And steer clear of areas where firefighters are working.

In a July 29 Facebook post, the BC Wildfire Service noted there had been multiple incidents in just two days of firefighting having to be halted because of interference from the public involving off-road vehicles entering an active fire area or forcing helicopters to stop dropping water on the fire.

In the Shuswap, interference relates to boaters getting in the way of skimmers and helicopters who are taking on water to fight fires in steep terrain.

“The Shuswap is busy in summer and the lake is big,” said fire information officer Rachel Witt. “We do understand that everyone has a cellphone and wants to get photos and videos, but make sure you move out of the way and let the pilots do their job. If there is any threat to safety of crews or aircraft, we can’t work.”

According to the Facebook post, RCMP and conservation officers will be increasing their patrols in areas where interference with firefighting operations is occurring.

On the good news front, with many evacuees returning to Williams Lake, Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s Shuswap Emergency Program has closed the emergency social services reception centre. The reception centre opened on Sunday, July 16 and served 843 evacuees. If the need arises, the centre can be ramped up again quickly.

If anyone spots smoke or people disregarding the campfire ban should call *5555 on their cell phones or 1-800-663-5555 on a landline.