‘Fire be­hav­iour is very un­pre­dictable’

Har­row­ing video cap­tures ter­ri­fy­ing drive from B.C. wild­fires

Kenora Daily Miner and News - - NATIONAL NEWS - LAURA KANE — Files from Gemma Karstens-Smith

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — At first, the drive didn’t seem too bad.

Sally Aitken and her hus­band de­cided to leave their cabin in Bri­tish Columbia’s West Chilcotin re­gion due to wild­fires on Sun­day. They were not or­dered to evac­u­ate, but had been with­out power for days and the only high­way out had re­cently re­opened.

As they drove along High­way 20, they saw noth­ing overly dra­matic: Light smoke, burned trees. Then they sud­denly they found them­selves in the mid­dle of an in­tense blaze, with flames leap­ing on ei­ther side of the road and smoke so dark they could barely see.

“Your choice is, when it gets bad, do you turn around ... and then you have to go through what you’ve al­ready been through, or do you just keep go­ing? We just kept go­ing,” re­called Aitken in an in­ter­view.

“It was alarm­ing but you can’t panic be­cause you’ve got to get out of the sit­u­a­tion and you’ve got to think clearly.”

Aitken, a pro­fes­sor in for­est and con­ser­va­tion sci­ences at the Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, shot a video of the har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and posted it on so­cial me­dia. She hopes the video will be in­struc­tive to peo­ple who are flee­ing the hun­dreds of blazes across B.C.

“Peo­ple re­ally need to fol­low the ad­vice of the pro­fes­sion­als who are telling them when to evac­u­ate,” she said. “But we also need to keep in mind that fire be­hav­iour is very un­pre­dictable. As quickly as the weather shifts, the fire shifts.”

Pro­vin­cial of­fi­cials said Tuesday that 219 fires were burn­ing and over 14,000 peo­ple have been forced from their homes. Thou­sands more are un­der evac­u­a­tion alerts, mean­ing they must be pre­pared to leave at a mo­ment’s no­tice.

The dy­namic na­ture of the fires does pose chal­lenges for of­fi­cials han­dling high­way clo­sures, said Mike Lorimer, a re­gional di­rec­tor at the Trans­porta­tion Min­istry. When driv­ers come across heavy smoke, they should slow down, put their haz­ards on and keep driving, he said.

An evac­u­a­tion alert was is­sued for the more than 10,000 res­i­dents of Wil­liams Lake Monday night. Mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials warned wind and light­ning fore­cast for Wednesday could push fires to­wards the city at a “rapid pace.”

The Tsil­hqot’in Na­tion said four of its six com­mu­ni­ties near Wil­liams Lake are threat­ened and many mem­bers have al­ready evac­u­ated. Food, wa­ter, fuel and medicine are in short sup­ply, it said in a state­ment.

Joe Alphonse, chief of the Tl’et­inqox com­mu­nity, said about 300 peo­ple stayed be­hind to fight the fires and save about 120 homes. They have some heavy equip­ment but the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial govern­ments must bring in more re­sources, he said.

“Tl’et­inqox ex­pe­ri­enced evac­u­a­tions twice be­fore and leav­ing the com­mu­nity caused even more stress and grief. We have no choice but to stay and fight back,” said Alphonse.

Kevin Skrep­nek, chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for the B.C. Wild­fire Ser­vice, said most peo­ple heed evac­u­a­tion or­ders, but some do stay be­hind to fight the fires them­selves. He said the prov­ince had pro­vided the Tsil­hqot’in with satel­lite phones.

Pre­mier-des­ig­nate John Hor­gan said he had been in touch with First Na­tions and mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers and planned to travel to af­fected com­mu­ni­ties later this week to view the dam­age.

Hot and dry con­di­tions are ex­pected to con­tinue across B.C.’s fire-stricken re­gions, pri­mar­ily the cen­tral and south­ern In­te­rior.

“I think peo­ple have to re­al­ize this is not go­ing away on the week­end,” said Hor­gan. “This is go­ing to be the next cou­ple of weeks, per­haps the rest of the sum­mer. And we have to stand to­gether.”

Bob Turner of Emer­gency Management BC said of­fi­cials were plan­ning ahead for the pos­si­bil­ity of mass evac­u­a­tions, in­clud­ing from Wil­liams Lake. Four emer­gency ex­perts are ar­riv­ing from Al­berta to help with plan­ning, while Cana­dian Armed Forces air­craft he­li­copters were on standby if air­lifts are needed, he said.

Wild­fires have scorched about 430 sq. km of land so far this year in B.C. The blazes are be­ing fought by some 1,000 B.C. fire­fight­ers, with about 300 col­leagues and sup­port staff ar­riv­ing from Al­berta, Saskatchewan, On­tario, New Brunswick and Man­i­toba.


The area of Bos­ton Flats, B.C. is pic­tured Tuesday af­ter a wild­fire ripped through the area ear­lier in the week.

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