There’s no sense of when the Rock Creek wildfire crisis will end.
Alan Stanley, from the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in Trail, is mapping out the devastating fire that rapidly spread through the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) jurisdiction west of Rock Creek Thursday afternoon.
The fire is now 3,750-hectares in size and considered zero per cent contained.
“At this point, it seems to be settling into a bit of a long term event,” Stanley said.
Evacuation orders were issued to 240 properties and by noon Friday, Highway 3 and Highway 33 remained closed to all traffic.
The corridor section remains too dangerous to access so an aerial assessment of affected properties was made by helicopter Saturday, then cross referenced with maps, and matched with the RDKB’s ownership data base.
“At that point we knew the owners and cross referenced that with the evacuee registers,” explained Stanley. “That was the main way we tracked most of the people down to inform the homeowners of their situation.”
Thirty homes and 11 additional properties, most on Highway 33 west of Rock Creek, were destroyed by the fire that grew more than 2,000 hectares in 24 hours.
Over the next few days, aircraft including air tankers will be supporting ground crews as they continue to extend control lines near properties by establishing machine-guard and fuel-free areas.
The fire is under investigation though suspected to be human-caused.
Highway 3 was re-opened Saturday night and 88 residents were allowed to return home Sunday. Evacuees from the Kettle River Provincial Park were transported back to the site that day, to gather belongings and vehicles before vacating the campground.
According to the EOC, wildfire and municipal firefighters were able to save all of the camper’s possessions.
Since the Rock Creek fire began, news reports and videos have flooded the airwaves and social media stream with people giving accounts of escaping the wildfire.
Grace McGregor saw first hand how quick and devastating a wildfire of this magnitude can be.
The RDKB board chair and Director for Area C was camping in the Christian Valley when the fire broke and was heading back home to Christina Lake.
“We tried to get home yesterday when the fire started up and we got as far as Westbridge,” she told the Trail Times Friday morning. “We were sitting at Westbridge watching that horrible smoke and it was so frightening. I just feel for everybody involved in this.”
Fires are all around the region, she said in a shaky voice. “It’s really volatile right now, and I just hope everybody stays close to home and stays as safe as they can right now.”
Other than a power outage in Beaverdell, factual details about the condition of properties in the Rock Creek area are unknown.
“No one can get in there and see anything because the fire is still burning,” McGregor added. “The regional district will be putting out specifics as soon as they have more information and as soon as they have the truth of what’s happened.”
McGregor shared that communities have quickly rallied to assist the region.
“There has been very helpful people,” she said, mentioning groups from Greenwood, Midway the Boundary Similkameen and many others. “Fire departments from all over the place have offered every kind of help they could.”
The Red Cross joined the relief efforts Monday, working alongside the RDKB and other agencies to provide assistance to fire evacuees.
Anyone trying to locate family members evacuated from the Rock Creek wildfire can contact 1.888.350.6070 where volunteers and staff are working to reconnect people with loved ones.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said McGregor, referring to the region’s Drought 4 rating and the Kettle River’s low water level.
“We were up there and saw there is hardly anything coming out of any of the tributaries,” she added. “People are really going to need to pay attention to what’s happening this year.”
Despite continued efforts of air tankers and ground crews, the dry climate, high temperatures and wind gusts grew the wildfire to its current size, according to Fanny Bernard, from the Southeast Fire Centre.
Thirty-six firefighters worked alongside the Midway Fire Department before 40 additional BC Wildfire Service personnel arrived on scene late Thursday evening.
For the latest information on current wildfire activity, visit bcwildfire.ca.
To follow RDKB Emergency Operations, visit twitter.com/AlanLStanley.