Jim Howard photo

Jim Howard photo

UPDATED: Aerial and ground crews battle Sparwood blaze

A wetline is being set up to prevent flames from spreading to Sparwood

Updated: 6:50 p.m

Crews are on the ground and are actively working to fight the fire burning just west of Sparwood.

A machine guard wetline is being set up at the bottom of the blazing slope to prevent the fire from spreading towards the community, and water delivery systems and hoselay are being established. Helicopters are assisting from above.

A B.C Wildfire Service team of 20 people is setting up control lines above the residences nearest to the slope and are using heavy equipment to open roadways along transmission lines. Control lines, also known as fire guards, are wide paths or dirt roads where all fuel is removed from the ground.

The fire was discovered on Friday, July 21 at high-elevation on a ridge-top above Sparwood. B.C Wildfire Service lists the current size of the blaze as 308 hectares. The fire has grown considerably since Monday’s update, which listed the fire as 150 hectares.

Wind gusts measuring up to 50km/hr continue to push the fire away from the ridge and down the slope. B.C Wildfire Services has primarily identified the blaze as rank one and two on a six-point fire severity scale, with occasional pockets of rank three. Rank one indicates a smouldering ground fire that generates a lot of white smoke but has no open flame. In rank two, flames are visible but are unorganized and inconsistent. These fire types have a slow spread.

The fire reaches rank three in pockets with heavy fuel load. Here, the flames are more organized and have a moderate rate of spread.

Residents may notice that the fire is strongest in the late afternoon and into the evening. B.C Wildfire Service incident commander Daniel Klein said that wildfires typically enter a peak burning period between 3 and 7 p.m., mainly due to climactic conditions.

“That’s when our temperatures are the highest, our relative humidity is the lowest,” he said in a public video announcement. “Typically we have more wind in the afternoon and that’s when everything aligns to have good burning conditions. That’s why we’ll see increased fire behaviour in the afternoon.”

An evacuation alert for residents living on upper and lower Matevic Rd. and in Sparwood Heights remains in place. Locals living in these areas must prepare to leave their properties should the alert change to an evacuation order. The evacuation alert currently stops at Sparwood Heights Dr. and does not include Whiskey Jack Dr.

According to Sparwood mayor David Wilks, there are approximately 400 homes on evacuation alert. Forty volunteers are going door-to-door in the affected area to deliver news of the alert.

Residents should have a bag packed and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice with essential items like a government-based ID, medications, money, clothing, personal care items, financial documents, valuables and keepsakes. Each household should have a designated meeting point outside the evacuation area and everyone living at the residence should be registered through the provincial Evacuee Registration and Assistance Tool at ess.gov.bc.ca. Pets and livestock should be moved to a safe area.

Residents can expect to see more B.C Wildfire Service personnel and heavy equipment enter the community in the next 24 hours. Workers are easily identifiable by their red shirts.