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ʔaq̓am evacuation alerts rescinded; orders remain in effect due St. Mary’s River wildfire

Fire was designated as ‘being held’ on the weekend, meaning it is not expected to grow beyond pre-existing boundaries
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The St. Mary’s River wildfire. Photo courtesy BC Wildfire Service.

While 36 evacuation orders remain in place out in the ʔaq̓am community, 26 evacuation alerts have been rescinded as the St. Mary’s River wildfire is now designated by the BC Wildfire Service as ‘being held.’

The alerts were rescinded for properties along the Mission Wycliffe Rd. and Mission Rd., however, the evacuation orders for homes in the Mission Wasa Low Rd area are still in effect. LD Ranch Rd. through to Mission Rd. remains closed to the public until danger tree falling can occur, while access to properties in that area can be done from the north or the west.

BC Hydro is also working to restore power to the community and ʔaq̓am and contractors are working on safety and damage assessments to residences and the community at large.

In a media release, ʔaq̓am community aadministration recognized the fire crews, first responders and contractors, government partners and non-profits who assisted with may different aspects of responding to the wildfire, whether through fire suppression to support during the evacuations.

“While there is a long road to recovery, the community has been overwhelmed with support and kindness that will never be forgotten,” reads the release.

Anyone interested in making a financial donation in support of the community can contact Ivan Winter directly at iwinter@aqam.net.

All evacuation alerts issued by the RDEK for the surrounding area have also been rescinded, including Wasa, Ta Ta Creek, HaHas (Stoney) Lake, Old Airport, Lakit Lake, McGinty Road, Clearview Road, Sommerfeldt Road, Woods Corner West, Campsall Road and Fort Steele areas, along with the Canadian Rockies International Airport.

“The RDEK is rescinding the Evacuation Alert for 667 dwellings in proximity of the fire. We are so grateful to the BC Wildfire Service for their tireless efforts throughout the past 12 days,” said Information Officer Loree Duczek. “This is another positive step forward and I know residents who have been on Alert will be excited to hear this news.”

The St. Mary’s River wildfire was categorized as “being held” on Saturday, meaning the fire is not expected to grow beyond pre-determined boundaries under prevailing conditions.

Fire behaviour remains a smouldering ground fire, as firefighters along the east, west and north flanks continue to patrol and conduct mop up operations.

Structure protection crews are removing equipment when and where it’s no longer necessary.

It is mapped at 4,640 hectares and has been burning for nearly two weeks, suspected to be caused by downed power lines during a heavy windstorm on July 17.

The fire destroyed seven homes as it was driven across the landscape by strong winds and tinder dry conditions.

Air tankers and helicopters quickly responded to the scene, as ground crews and heavy equipment assets assembled in the community over the coming days.

The fire was even able to spot across the east side of Kootenay River into a small section of Bummers Flats, but fire suppression efforts were successful in halting it from spreading further.

Over 200 personnel were assigned to the fire, from BC Wildfire Service firefighters, contractors, firefighters with the City of Cranbrook and City of Kimberley, as well as heavy equipment operators and structure protection specialists, and more.

Hand ignitions were a key factor in stopping the wildfire’s growth, as ground crews used controlled burning to remove unburnt fuels and shore up containment lines, according to Daniel Klein, Incident Commander with BC Wildfire Service.

“That’s how we’ve been winning on this fire, is through ignitions and through small-scale, planned ignitions out to roadways, out to really good containment lines, and being 100 per cent sure that there is no more fuel to burn on this fire,” Klein said, during a daily video update on July 25.



Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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