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Crews fight wildfire with fire as B.C.’s central battleground starts to shift

Crews work to protect Cranbrook airport as weather moves firefighting process southward
Wildfire crews conduct controlled burns, as shown in this handout image provided by Tristen Chernove, near Cranbrook, B.C.’s Canadian Rockies International Airport to provide a fire guard from the out-of-control St. Mary’s River fire. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tristen Chernove

The forest and brush around the international airport at Cranbrook, B.C., has been scorched in an all-out effort to protect the vital transportation link from an encroaching wildfire, airport manager Tristen Chernove said Friday.

Wildfire crews were at the Canadian Rockies International Airport in southeastern B.C. overnight Friday monitoring the fires that were purposely lit as a guard from the out-of-control St. Mary’s River fire, he said.

Chernove said the controlled burns did their job and are adding to previous wildfire mitigation measures taken by airport officials.

“Last night there were some further ignitions done very close to the airport, which visually can look pretty dramatic, but it was all under control,” he said. “The airport itself, while we are in the midst of a lot of smoke, as far as fuel load around us, we are actually quite protected.”

He said flights were arriving and departing Friday, but heavy smoke has resulted in some cancellations.

The BC Wildfire Service recommended Thursday that City of Cranbrook properties and leased areas at the airport be placed under an evacuation alert.

The Regional District of East Kootenay followed the wildfire service recommendation late Thursday and issued an evacuation alert for 71 dwellings, including the airport property, because of the 26-square-kilometre fire.

Earlier this week, several homes at the Cranbrook area’s Aq’am First Nation were destroyed by the same wildfire.

Chenove said they’ve been working for the last few years to prepare for just such an event by reducing the fuel load around the airport.

”I would say there’s been a lot of proactive measures, including last night, to keep the airport protected from any surprises.”

BC Wildfire Service officials have forecast an increase in fires in southern B.C. as cooler temperatures and rain is forecast for the province’s north, where some of the largest fires are burning.

But hot, dry weather persists in Cranbrook, Kamloops, the Okanagan, Vancouver Island and B.C. Lower Mainland.

Environment Canada issued heat warnings Friday, saying unseasonably hot weather in B.C.’s Okanagan, Thompson, and Boundary regions will push temperatures into the mid 30s into the weekend.

The agency said daytime temperatures are expected to reach 38 Celsius in the Boundary region, while temperatures in the south and central Okanagan, south and north Thompson, and Fraser Canyon regions will reach up to 36 Celsius.

The latest heat wave broke records in parts of the province, including a 38.2 Celsius temperature in Nelson on Thursday, surpassing the last high from 1938, while records were also set in McKenzie, Nakusp, Richmond and Smithers.

The extended heat wave comes as B.C. expected the arrival of 100 firefighters from Brazil Friday, adding to the province’s growing international wildfire force.

Cliff Chapman, BC Wildfire Service spokesman, said about 500 international firefighters are already in the province, boosting the ranks of the more than 2,000 provincial wildfire service personnel on the front lines battling hundreds of blazes.

He said the firefighters from Brazil will join crews from Mexico, the United States and Australia currently in the province.

Bowinn Ma, B.C.’s emergency management and climate readiness minister, recently requested 1,000 international firefighters through the non-profit Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which co-ordinates national and international fire management.

Chapman said the international firefighters are providing much-needed relief and assistance to crews battling the more than 400 fires currently burning in the province.

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