Homes were evacuated in the Aqam community due to a wildfire Monday afternoon. Trevor Crawley photo.

Homes were evacuated in the Aqam community due to a wildfire Monday afternoon. Trevor Crawley photo.

UPDATED: Evacuation alerts expanded as St. Mary’s River wildfire grows

Government confirms that homes have been lost

A wildfire burning near the ʔaq̓am Community north of Cranbrook has grown to over 800 hectares as of Tuesday afternoon, as B.C.’s emergencies minister confirmed homes were lost.

“This is a tragic situation and I am thinking of the people of ʔaq̓am Community,” said Bowinn Ma, the minister of emergency management and climate readiness, during a provincial press conference on Tuesday.

Ma acknowledged Monday’s tactical evacuation of the Mission Rd. and Mission Wasa Lower Rd area of the community, noting she has spoken with Nasuʔkin (Chief) Joe Pierre Jr.

“The community is currently in the process of assessing their medium term and long term needs and we’ll be working with them on those,” Ma said.

The wildfire, which is now estimated to be over 800 hectares, is suspected to be caused by downed power lines that grew significantly due to strong winds on Monday afternoon. The fire touched off an evacuation of 52 properties in the ʔaq̓am Community and an emergency operations centre was activated to support residents evacuated to the Dan Joe Memorial Gymnasium.

An additional 43 dwellings in the area now on evacuation alert, which include the south side of the St. Mary’s River in the Campsall Rd area, as well as properties on the north side of the river in the Cherry Creek and LD Ranch Rd. area.

Residents of those properties under evacuation alert are asked to prepare to leave immediately if necessary.

A structure protection unit has been deployed to the community, which specializes in protecting homes and buildings threatened by wildfire. Structure protection units operate out of trailers equipped with gear such as pumps, hoses, and sprinklers in order to create a “humidity bubble”by running water on and around a structure, according to the BC Wildfire Service.

As of Tuesday afternoon, two unit crews (40 firefighters), three initial attack crews (12-14 firefighters) and contractors, are on scene, being supported by air assets. Heavy equipment worked overnight Monday to establish a containment lines on the east and west flanks, according to the BC Wildfire Service.

The Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services, along with the RDEK and RCMP are assisting with coordinating wildfire response.

The wildfire remains north of the St. Mary’s River and west of the Kootenay River and hasn’t jumped those two water bodies.