Black Press file photo

Crews pulled off of all three fires south of Elko

Conditions too dangerous for firefighters

By Alexandra Heck

Free Press staff

ELKO—All fire crews have been told to retreat from the three wildfires burning out of control south and east of Elko after the province, following the closure to the back country in the Rocky Mountain Forest District.

“We don’t have any crews on any of those fires,” said Karlie Shaughnessy, with the BC Wildfire service. “Because of the extreme behaviour that the fires are exhibiting. So for safety reasons we had to pull all the people off.”

Over the past days since the closure, all three blazes have grown steadily; the Lodgepole fire has spread to over 1,750 hectares, the Soowa Mountain fire has grown to and estimated 909 hectares and further east, Centre Mountain has a blaze that is 27 hectares.

“These fires were one of the main reasons why we issued the back country closures,” said Shaughnessy. “A lot of the fires in the Flathead Region are and were exhibiting extreme fire behaviour.”

Currently, all the BC Fire Service can do is wait. Smoke is completely obscuring the view of the fires, which is making it difficult for crews to assess the size and spread.

“We’ve been focusing on doing some structure protection on some of these fires on cabins in the back country,” said Shaughnessy. “Now we’re just waiting for visibility to lift a bit to get a better idea of the size and the growth…just to get a better sense of how to directly attack this fire.”

The service cannot use water bomber planes to fight the fire because there is too much smoke obscuring the view overhead.

“We’re assessing them as much as we can at this point, with the poor visibility it’s really hard to get a handle on the size and location,” she said.

The areas burning are quite remote, with only one access in and out, which makes fighting the blaze extremely dangerous.

“We had to issue the back country closure in the Rocky Mountain resource district due to public safety,” said Shaughnessy, adding that the cabins at risk should be evacuated as the result of the Crown land closures.

She says that the Wildfire Service have crews assessing the situation on a daily basis, but they cannot access the area from the ground. They have been trying to protect and save small cabins in the forest however this too is proving difficult.

Shaughnessy says that they are hoping for a change in wind direction later this week, which will help clear smoke from the areas and restore visibility.