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Elk Valley, South Country fire danger remains despite cooler nights: Fire chiefs

Jaffray Fire Chief Dave Boreen said a recent abandoned vehicle fire overnight was a close call
The Doctor Creek fire on August 25, 2020. (Photo: BC Wildfire Service)

Conditions remain dangerous for wildfires to take hold in the Elk Valley and South Country despite coming towards the end of summer.

It’s still warm during the day and a dry spell means the grasslands of the South Country and the forests around Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford are crunchy underfoot.

“There’s a lot of dry fuel this year,” ,said Jaffray Fire Chief Dave Boreen.

“We could have some fires yet. The only good thing we have going for us now is it’s later in the season, so the cooler nights can put fires to bed a bit.”

Boreen said that it had been a fairly typical fire season for the region, with the main difference between 2020 and years past being a lack of large fires up in the North of the province.

“Typically the north country, they start burning way before us (and) a lot of provincial resources are deployed up there on the big fires. They never got that this year, so a lot of the provincial resources are available.

“Any of these fire starts (B.C.) seem to be getting, they are able to quickly hold them back. There’s a few that have gotten larger, but that’s pretty typical due to terrain and accessibility.”

The danger was far from gone however, with Boreen pointing to a recent incident at the Tie Lake Transfer Station north of Jaffray as a close call.

An abandoned vehicle was set alight overnight, and was not reported to the authorities while it was burning because “nobody noticed it”, said Boreen. The fire did not spread beyond the vehicle.

“It had huge potential - middle of the night, there’s large wood debris piles, forest near there, homes nearby - if that had have escaped, it would have been pretty tragic.”

Anyone with information on the abandoned vehicle fire is encouraged to contact RDEK Fire Services - South Country.

Most of the recent call-outs for the Fire crew in Jaffray had been smoke chasing, according to Boreen.

“People are on edge - they’re being diligent and they’re watching. We don’t mind going out to look, because we can save these fires in the early stages and save everyone a headache.”

Elkford Fire Chief Corey Kortmeyer said the conditions up the Elk Valley were similarly dry.

“If you go out tomorrow and walk through the bush, it’s just snap, crackle and pop,” he said.

“We’ve had a beautiful summer, but that’s increased the chance of wildfire.”

Kortmeyer similarly said that as summer comes to a close and fall comes around, some of the danger lessens thanks to cool nights, but it wasn’t any reason to be complacent.

“In 2017 we ended up having one of the latest evacuation alerts that were given to any community,” he said, explaining that the Kenow wildfire that burned massive swathes of the Waterton Lakes National Park across the border in Alberta had been a fire that started in the middle of the day, and weather conditions had pushed it towards the Elk Valley.

Kortmeyer stressed that it was important for those enjoying the outdoors of the region to reduce risk of wildfire and stay vigilant if they had campfires.

“Everyone knows what they should do to make it safer, so they’re not a liability.

“The weather conditions can change at the drop of a hat.”

Boreen had a similar message, saying that human-caused fires were a huge concern.

“The big thing I push fire safety for campsites. For sure have water available - at least two and a half gallons of water available to extinguish the fire if required, or a fire fighting tool like rakes or shovels.

“People really need to be diligent,” he said. “People get lazy and complacent with some of their fires, and next you know, the fire’s travelling outside.”

Currently there is a smokey skies bulletin issued for the East Kootenay, as the area is being impacted by smoke from the Doctor Creek fire near Canal Flats.

The Doctor Creek fire has so far burned 58 square kilometres,with the fire headed uphill towards steep and rocky terrain the west as of Aug. 30. The Regional District of East Kootenay has issued an evacuation order for 10 properties in the Findlay Creek area.

READ MORE: BC Wildfire Service conducts planned ignition ahead of Doctor Creek fire
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