This week’s cooler weather brought some much needed lower temperatures and precipitation, helping to ease local forest fire conditions. With the exception of the rare thunderstorm, Bella Coola hasn’t seen significant rainfall in over a month. The extremely dry conditions led to a number of lightening strikes, resulting in several fires throughout the area.
Records were set across the province for the driest July ever, with absolutely no rain for Vancouver or Victoria. Bella Coola saw some sprinkling, but nothing substantial. Hot weather dominated the forecast for weeks, with temperatures consistently in the high 20s or low 30s.
The largest fire in the Bella Coola area is situated in South Bentinck and, at press time, was 130 hectares in size. Smoke from the fire has been drifting into the Valley for the past week, making for some hazy days. However, the fire has slowed down significantly in the past few days.
“The South Bentinck fire is below the Blue Jay Lake Recreation site and the Clayton Falls FSR is closed to protect public safety. The Recreation site is above the fire, and as fire travels uphill easier than down, it’s not a good place for the public to be,” said Donna MacPherson, Coastal Fire Information Officer. “This fire is being closely monitored, but crews are not working it due to the steepness of the slope and the instability of the trees where the fire is burning. This location has been burned before, and there are a lot of snags and unstable trees.”
The second fire is located at Horsetail Falls in Tweedsmuir Park, and is now listed at 100 percent contained but will be subject to patrols to make sure it doesn’t start up again. This fire was also the site of a helicopter accident. Last week, a Kamov helicopter run by Vancouver Island Helicopters was forced to make a hard landing when the pilot had to punch off the longline and water bucket. Fortunately there were no injuries.
There are also two fires in the Kimsquit area that are currently being monitored, but the area is so smoky that it was difficult for crews to estimate the sizes. Resources in the Valley, as of press time, include three Initial Attack crews of three firefighters each, plus a RAP crew of three, (the RAP crew is a rappel crew able to exit a hovering helicopter on rappel gear and they are used to create access for fires in steep and inaccessible areas), one Unit Crew (twenty firefighters total), four danger tree fallers, and five helicopters plus one RAP helicopter.
The Chilcotin Plateau has seen its fair share of fires in the past, but this year the fires are situated well away from Highway 20 and are not threatening any structures or homes.
“The biggest fire we have right now is in the Itcha Ilgachuz Provincial Park, and it’s 1,200 hectares,” said Fire Information Officer Greig Bethel. “We had a few small spot fires along Highway 20 between Tatla Lake and Riske Creek but none are threatening the highway.”
The current fire danger rating is high to extreme for the Bella Coola Valley and is expected to stay that way until there is some significant rainfall.
“We need at least three to four days of steady rain for it to permeate the ground and make a real difference,” said MacPherson. “We are asking the public to be very careful with any sparks, as the Valley has a high to extreme fire danger rating at this time. There is a prohibition against all open burning, including campfires.”