The smoke is definitely clearing from Princeton’s forest fire.
That’s according to the information officer for the new Incident Management Team – a crew from New South Wales Australia – in an interview with The Spotlight Tuesday.
“Once we are certain there is no more chance it will be re-ignited we will hand it back to BC Wildfire Service,” said Brendan Doyle.
The 3,300 hectare fire, which started July 7 and burned out of control for five days before any progress was made to contain it, reached 100 percent containment last Saturday.
Tuesday the IMT employed a helicopter with thermal-imaging technology to fly over the area, identify hotspots and record their locations in GPS.
“Then the crews go out with their GPS and they can go right to the spot,” said Doyle.
Tuesday the survey showed 43 hot spots, compared to a similar scan a week previous that indicated 150 problem areas.
“It’s absolutely going to make [firefighters] more efficient on the ground and hopefully speed up the progress of getting this fire out.”
As fires go, and in its waning days, the Princeton blaze isn’t much to look at, he added.
“There are no visible flames and very little active smoke,” said Doyle.
“We are basically now just mopping up.”
Doyle described the mop up process as “dirty work” and “strenuous,” as it involves digging, turning over trees and stumps, eliminating hot spots and ensuring the fire is not smouldering underground.
The fire has an approximate 30 km perimeter and “we might have to check every square inch of it…It might look like it’s out but you scratch the surface and you could have fire there.”
There were 140 firefighters deployed to the effort Tuesday morning and a 19-member team from Alberta was expected to arrive later in the day.
While there was heavy equipment on standby “the guys and girls are on foot. There is a lot of work in the coming days,” said Doyle.
Highway 5A was reopened Monday, and most evacuees in that area were allowed to return to their homes the previous day. Summers Creek Road remained closed Tuesday with 17 properties still on evacuation alert.
A team specializing in the assessment of dangerous trees – trees that might contain embers or sparks, or be weakened by fire and fall down an incline – was examined that passageway Tuesday.
“As soon as they are happy with the area they will reopen it.”
The 12-member Princeton IMT is part of a 53-person contingent from Australia that arrived in British Columbia last Wednesday to aid in the battle against 155 wildfires in the province.
Doyle said the team here is used to the conditions of the Princeton fire.
“Whilst it’s different, a lot of the east coast of Australia is similar terrain.”
The last time Australian crews responded to a request for aid from the Canadian government was 2015.
The Australia fire season is opposite to BC’s, he added, and the Australian crews expect to be here until September 1.
“That’s when things start getting warm [there]. This will be a good warm up for us.”