The potential reality of wildfire dangers being faced by so many people in B.C. hit close to home for Cowichan Valley residents last week.
It was a week of watching, waiting and wondering after two wildfires were reported a day apart in the same vicinity.
The first one last Wednesday, Aug. 4, located at the Chemainus River Provincial Park, was quickly brought under control and contained at 0.3 hectares by BC Wildfire Service personnel.
That fire was no sooner contained than another one broke out and reported around midnight Thursday, Aug. 5.
Initially referred to as the Holyoak Creek fire and later changed to the Copper Canyon fire, it quickly grew from five hectares to 32 in the first 24 hours. After some anxious moments Friday when the fire was classified as ‘out of control’ and remained that way for the next few days it’s now considered ‘being held’ by the BC Wildfire Service as of late Monday afternoon following some intensive work by fire crews.
“Being held means sufficient suppression action has been taken that the fire is not likely to spread beyond existing or predetermined boundaries under the prevailing and forecasted conditions,” said Dorthe Jakobsen, fire information officer for the Coastal Fire Centre.
“We still have to get to ‘under control.’”
A total of 48 firefighters, one helicopter, four water tenders and heavy equipment were being utilized to knock the fire down in advance of another heat wave set to envelop the region.
“They’re doing an aggressive mop-up which is turning over as much of the forest debris as they can and very physically labour intensive,” said Jakobsen.
When crews first arrived on the scene at the outset of the fire, they discovered a vigorous surface fire powered by high winds. Those high winds forced crews to back off from the fire area to ensure their safety, but the morning after brought calm winds and cloud coverage.
The clouds stuck around all day, but the winds picked up again and the fire began to spread.
A Local State of Emergency was declared Friday by the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the Municipality of North Cowichan and remains in effect until Aug. 13. The wildfire emergency, signed by CVRD Chair Aaron Stone and North Cowichan Acting Mayor Rosalie Sawrie, required prompt coordination of action or special regulation of persons or property to protect the health, safety or welfare of people or to limit damage to property.
The wildfire posed a threat to people and property within Electoral Area E, including: Trans Canada Highway 1, Highway 18, the western boundary of Electoral Area E and a portion of the northern boundary of the Municipality of North Cowichan.
One property on Mount Prevost Road was issued an evacuation order.
There were also come concerns initially about the fire’s proximity on the Mount Sicker Road side.
“This can be a real wind tunnel up here,” said Bob Morris. “It was really windy up there (Thursday).”
“It’s close to home and it’s dry,” said Tree Mosicki.
No alerts were issued for properties on the Mount Sicker Road side or any others, for that matter, beyond the one on Mount Prevost Road.
A para-attack crew from Fort St. John literally parachuted in Friday at 5 p.m. to join the firefight due to “the remoteness of that part of the fire,” noted Jakobsen. “They’re a self-contained team and they’re able to bring lots of equipment. It’s a special crew. They call them smoke jumpers colloquially.”
The firefighters jumped from a DC-3 aircraft and also dropped considerable gear to be picked up and utilized on the ground.
Their ability to get into difficult locations presented by fires such as this can be a game-changer in these circumstances.
Some rain overnight Friday was also helpful in containment, but a change in the upcoming forecast meant the team had to act fast.
“We are in a heating trend now which does kick up winds,” said Jakobsen.
“That’s one of the reasons we are aggressively actioning this fire to contain the perimeter before the heat comes on.”
Temperatures were expected to reach into the low 30s Celsius again before the end of the week.
Crews fortunately held the fire at 32 hectares since Friday.
It was suspected that a third wildfire was burning in the Cowichan Valley on Saturday afternoon, Aug. 7, at Skutz Falls, however the Coastal Fire Centre said it ended up being nothing.
A representative from the Coastal Fire Centre said that a fire was reported, but when crews went to find it, the call ended up being what they call a “smoke chase”, meaning they could locate no blaze.
The Chemainus River Provincial Park fire was determined to be human caused and the Copper Canyon fire “suspected of being human caused, but under investigation,” Jakobsen said.