Sunset diffused by smoke over the Arrow Lakes. (Sylvia Defosse photo)

Fire danger remains high

The Southeast Fire Centre is reminding the public to remain vigilant in the back country

With an evacuation order near Nelway now lifted and two wildfires outside of Nelson fully contained, the Southeast Fire Centre is reminding the public to stay alert – because fire danger remains high, and in some pockets, extreme.

“The rain (last week) did not penetrate greatly into the ground … and we are going into a drying trend,” says Fire Information Officer Carlee Kachman. “So again, we are still in a time where fires are prevalent on the landscape … we are reminding the public to be very vigilant when they are venturing into the back country and if they see any defined columns of smoke to report it and let us know.”

The McCormick Creek wildfire, burning 20 kilometres southwest of Salmo since Aug. 9, was 50 per cent contained over the weekend. Nearby properties have been evacuated since Aug. 11, however on Monday, the Regional District of Central Kootenay reduced the order to an evacuation alert, effective tonight (Tuesday) at 6 p.m. The cause of the wildfire remains under investigation.

Heavy equipment, one helicopter and 54 firefighters are focusing efforts on establishing guard this week, so BC Wildfire Service is advising the public to stay clear of firefighting aircraft that are collecting water from lakes and other bodies of water.

Effective Aug. 16, an area restriction is in effect for the Salmo River between the point where it joins the Pend d’Oreille River and the point of the river nearest the junction of Hwy 3 and Hwy 6. This area restriction means that no people or watercraft are allowed to be on that section of the Salmo River at any time.

The Pend d’Oreille River currently does not have an area restriction in place. However, the status could change if recreational boaters interfere with fire suppression activities. Conservation officers are patrolling to patrol the two rivers to ensure compliance.

When firefighting aircraft, such as air tankers or helicopters, are working on an active wildfire and picking up water, they need plenty of room to manoeuvre to do their job safely. Recreational boaters or people using other watercraft who try to get a close-up look at these aircraft present a serious safety risk for air crews and anyone else in the area.

This behaviour is dangerous and interferes with the BC Wildfire Service’s ability to fight a fire, since a pilot cannot collect water when a boat is in its intended flight path.

Reports of boaters getting in the way of an air tanker, helicopter or other firefighting aircraft will be investigated by Compliance and Enforcement Branch, the Conservation Officer Service and/or the RCMP.

Under the Wildfire Act, the person responsible could face a violation ticket fine of $1,150. There is also an option to levy an administrative penalty instead of a violation ticket. The maximum penalty is $100,000 under the Wildfire Regulation.

The person could also be charged with an offence under a certain section of the Wildfire Act, which carries a maximum fine of $100,000.

In addition, there are danger trees (trees that have been damaged by fire to the point where they may be unstable) along the banks of the Salmo and Pend d’Oreille rivers, which present a potential threat to the safety of anyone travelling in those areas.

Off-road vehicles remain prohibited on Crown land throughout the southeast, Cariboo and Kamloops fire centres, and on-highway vehicles must remain on defined road surfaces.

This step was taken Aug. 4, to help prevent human-caused wildfires, because the operation of any off-road vehicles in those regions creates a potential wildfire risk during the ongoing wildfire situation. While jeeps, trucks and other on-highway vehicles are permitted on designated roads, they are not allowed off-road.

Anyone found in contravention of the off-road vehicle prohibition may be issued a violation ticket in the amount of $767. If the contravention causes or contributes to a wildfire, the person responsible may be ordered to pay all firefighting and associated costs.

On Friday, the province extended B.C.’s state of emergency through to Sept. 1. This is the third time the state of emergency has been extended, with previous extensions on July 19 and Aug. 4.

This ensures that federal, provincial and local resources can be delivered in a co-ordinated response to the wildfire situation and continue to ensure public safety.

To report a wildfire or open burning violation, call *5555 on a cellphone or 1.800.663.5555 toll-free. For the latest information on current wildfire activity, burning restrictions, road closures and air quality advisories, visit: www.bcwildfire.ca

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