B.C. fires force 7,500 from homes, 60 houses burn

08/02/2003

Associated Press
King 5 News


KAMLOOPS, British Columbia Wildfires drove approximately 7,500 people from their homes in central British Columbia and burned dozens of houses in the town of Barriere, emergency officials say.

At least 60 homes and a sawmill were destroyed Friday in the town, about 30 miles north of here, said Bob Buglsag of the provincial emergency program.

The British Columbia government declared a state of emergency in the area.

A tow truck driver still in Barriere on Friday night said the small downtown area was unscathed.

KING
The BC fire has burned 60 homes.
"I've never been in a war zone but that's what it reminds you of," Bill Kershaw said, describing how he earlier watched heavily laden cars leaving town.

"Every car going by (was) loaded down with furniture and snowmobiles," he said, adding the area was deserted by nightfall except for emergency crews.

Residents were shepherded to Kamloops, along with people from neighboring McLure and its surrounding area, where the estimated 16-square-mile fire broke out Wednesday.

About 7,500 people had been forced from their homes by Friday night, said Cathy Piazza, chief information officer for the provincial emergency program.

About 4,000 were from residential areas within a few miles of Kamloops, driven out by a new fire sparked Friday afternoon that burned up the side of a mountain visible from the city's downtown.

As the fire jumped a highway and inched perilously close to the Kamloops suburb of Rayleigh, officials thought residents would have to escape across a river aboard a Department of Fisheries and Oceans boat, said Cpl. Mike Stewart of the Kamloops Royal Canadian Mounted Police. But in the end, residents were able to drive out, he said.

Premier Gordon Campbell said the state of emergency was aimed at helping crews fighting fires in McLure and surrounding areas, and to ensure a coordinated response to evacuating residents threatened by the expanding wildfires.

"This is the worst situation we've had and the driest circumstances that we've measured in the last 50 years," Campbell said. "In all likelihood British Columbians have never lived through a drier forest situation than we are living through this summer."

The McLure area fire has forced the evacuation of residents in McLure, Louis Creek and Barriere, and closed a portion of Highway 5.

The fire apparently was started Wednesday by a discarded cigarette, fire information officer Kevin Matuga said. Fanned by high winds, it exploded Thursday night.

KING
Many have fled their homes in Barriere, B.C.
The blaze was too hot for firefighters to approach, especially "with the kind of volatile situation we're seeing right now, the ever-changing and shifting winds," Matuga said.

Ash from the fire was raining onto Barriere.

Before the evacuation of Barriere, resident Donald Campbell said the town was choked with smoke snaking over a hill. "You can't see half a block across the street right now because of the smoke."

Campbell said he was ready.

"I got my razor and my toothbrush and that's all I'm taking. I travel light," he said. "Oh and my cigarettes too."


Farewell Creek wildfire

Helicopters delivered 100 elite firefighters to the front lines of the Farewell Creek wildfire, a milestone in trying to control the 76,386-acre blaze.

Five crews of Hotshots were using hand tools Friday to dig firelines along the northwest face of the fire in the Pasayten Wilderness, near the Canadian border in northcentral Washington.

KING
The Farewell Creek wildfire is fast approaching the Canadian border.
The crews will sleep inside the wilderness area for the next few days, and supplies will be airdropped to them, fire spokeswoman Christy Covington said.

"Things seem to be going very well out on the line today," Covington said Friday. "We're holding our own."

Fire crews until now have concentrated on keeping the fire inside the boundaries of the wilderness, where motorized vehicles are prohibited, rather than trying to stop the spread of the flames.

Part of the reason was that a lack of roads in the wilderness meant there were no escape routes for firefighters.

But crews were able to build a helipad on the northwest side of the fire on Thursday, allowing the Hotshots to enter the fray, Covington said. One of the elite crews is from Canada, she said.

The Hotshots will spend four to five days at the so-called spike camp in the wilderness, she said.

Temperatures dropping to the low 80s and increased humidity calmed the fire enough that crews were able to build direct containment line Friday on the northwest section, spokesman Kent Romney said.

Also Friday, Canadian crews used a mechanical tree faller to expand a slash cut that runs through timber along the border, clearing an additional 30-foot buffer along a section near the Ashnola River drainage, where the fire has been burning fiercely, Romney said.

The Farewell Creek fire was started by lightning on June 29 and has continued to burn slowly up the Spanish Creek drainage. It is about four miles from the Canadian border and was about 40 percent contained Friday night.

There were 1,217 people working the fire, which has cost $26.7 million to fight.

Extreme fire danger has prompted a ban on outdoor fires in many state, county and federal forests.

"It is extremely dry in the forests, and it doesn't look like there will be a reprieve from the hot weather any time soon," said Darrel Kenops, supervisor of the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests.

The ban applies to open fires, campfires (including those in fire pits) and the use of charcoal barbecues.

Jack Hartt, manager at Riverside State Park in Spokane, said grass is so dry that any dropped match can ignite a fire.

On Friday, the Colville Confederated Tribes offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the people responsible for starting the McGinnis Flats fire near Keller.

The 2,245-acre fire, now contained, started on July 18 and claimed the life of helicopter pilot Randall Harmon of Grants Pass, Ore., in a crash. It has cost $4.9 million to fight.


Related Stories
Environmental groups happy with Farewell fire response


While this has been a below-average fire season so far nationally, that's not the case in Washington, said Jackie Denk, an information officer with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
There have been 19 large fires so far in the state described as those burning more than 100 acres in timber or 300 acres in grass. They have burned a total of 108,340 acres.

For all of last year in Washington, there were 11 large fires, and they burned 74,013 acres, she said.


Oregon fires cool off

Wildfire crews across Oregon are tracking several fires Saturday, helped by cooler weather.

Officials at the Kelsay Fire in the Diamond Lake Ranger District say the 1,185 acres fire is 70 percent contained.

Full containment was expected Saturday evening.

Crews there are doing mop-up and rehabilitation work on the fire.

Almost 800 people are assigned to help fight that fire.

At the Clark Fire near Eugene, crews have also been helped by cloudy skies, higher humidity and cooler temperatures.

Containment has reached 95 percent and full containment was expected by 6 p.m.

The fire started on July 13 and the cause is still under investigation.

In all, 725 firefighters and support personnel were assigned to the incident, and to date, the Clark Fire has cost $10.7 million to fight.

 

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