Bush Creek East wildfire response impacted by poor visibility

Over 300 personnel are responding to the Bush Creek East wildfire, and officials say Sun Peaks is not under threat at this time.
BC Wildfire Service’s map of the Bush Creek East wildfire. Courtesy of BC Wildfire’s map

Update, Aug. 23, 2023, 4:00 p.m.: BC Wildfire Service’s most recent update on the Bush Creek East wildfire notes there has been “no significant growth anywhere on the fire in the last 48 hours.” Tuesday’s rainfall was between 2 mm to 20 mm on various sections of the wildfire, and BCWFS’s objectives are consistent with days prior.

Air operations were called off today because of dense smoke that impacts visibility, but some aircraft were able to fly Tuesday when the smoke cleared. The fire’s perimeter will be updated once visibility can allow aerial mapping of the entire wildfire.

High winds are still posing risk to people in the area should they fall because of weakened root systems.

The TNRD confirmed that 11 properties in southern Adams Lake area have been impacted from the wildfire. Nine were destroyed and two were damaged. No other structures in the TNRD’s jurisdiction have been reported damaged or destroyed.

About 10 km east of Sun Peaks the Bush Creek East wildfire is out of control, with current conditions preventing accurate size estimates and aerial responses due to smoke.

The latest update from B.C. Wildfire Service’s website regarding the size of the Bush Creek East wildfire was issued Sunday, Aug. 20, around 9 p.m. The blaze is estimated to be over 41,000 hectares or 410 square km. There are eight communities in the Shuswap under evacuation orders and alerts.

Kamloops Fire Centre’s Fire Information Officer, Karlie Desrosiers, told SPIN smoky skies impacted aerial operations today, Aug. 21.

“There is less than half a mile visibility, which is much lower than needed in order to fly,” she said. “Unfortunately, none of our helicopters have been able to fly today.”

However, three ground crew units were assigned to Scotch Creek, Lee Creek and Turtle Valley, all of which are under evacuation orders. Desrosiers said more than 300 people are assigned to work on the fire.

Tropical Storm Hilary is further impacting the fire’s behaviour, causing wind gusts from the east between 20 to 40 km per hour. There may be precipitation this evening that could decrease fire behaviour “slightly,” according to Desrosiers.

“Today’s the last day that we’re expecting sporadic winds and potential for extreme fire behavior based on the windy and ongoing dry conditions.”

She noted cooling temperatures could mitigate fire behavior for the remainder of the week but expects the fire to remain acting “for quite some time.”

Also of note is the risk from wildfire smoke and unstable trees in the area. Wildfire smoke can have detrimental impacts for people without proper PPE and the windy conditions can down burnt trees with weakened root systems.

“The root systems burn when the fire passes and it’s not securely anchored into the ground anymore,” Desrosiers said. “So if the wind picks up, those trees can fall pretty readily and that is a significant hazard.”

Fire crews are working to prevent further spread in the Loakin Bear Valley area, which is about 10 km outside of Sun Peaks.

“T​​hey’re working on constructing equipment guards. And a little bit further, they’ll be doing potential hand ignitions to remove the fuel. But the goal is to prevent or slow down the growth towards Sun Peaks,” Desrosiers said.

Smoke is also impacting accurate estimates of the fire’s size, and the current perimeter was created with thermal scanning, but the heat from the fire can skew the data.

“Until we can get a full aerial view of this fire, we’ll be relying on heat signature data which can sometimes be skewed by the insular effect of the smoke,” Desrosiers said.

The municipality is monitoring the Bush Creek wildfire but there is no imminent threat to Sun Peaks, according to Deanna Campbell, SPMRM’s chief administrative officer.

“The last update that we received from BC wildfire was that there is still no imminent threat in our direction at this time,” she said. “But of course, things can quickly change so we’re still prepared.”

The municipality is also involved in daily calls with the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness and has direct discussions with the incident commander for the Bush Creek East wildfire, Campbell said.

Sun Peaks Fire Rescue (SPFR) chief Dean Schiavon said the municipality has been added to a list that could be called to respond to the Bush Creek East fire and the department is in the planning stages should their help be required.

“The primary thing for residents is to get your grab-and-go bag prepared, use the Voyent Alert app, make sure you’ve got fuel in your vehicle. If you don’t have a vehicle, make plans with friends or neighbours,” Schiavon said.

Wildfire updates will be posted on SPMRM’s website and Facebook

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