The St. Mary’s River wildfire. Photo courtesy BC Wildfire Service.

The St. Mary’s River wildfire. Photo courtesy BC Wildfire Service.

RDEK evacuation order downgraded on St. Mary’s River wildfire

All evacuation alerts remain in effect; fire crews conducting hand ignitions to clean out unburnt fuels

An evacuation order has been downgraded to an evacuation alert for 15 properties in the Woods Corner east area of the St. Mary’s River wildfire, according to the RDEK.

“This is great news and I know will be welcome to all those who have been out of their home in the Woods Corner area since last Wednesday,” said Loree Duczek, Information Officer. “Having said that, we want to stress to people within the entire Evacuation Alert area that they are still on Alert and should stay prepared and be ready to leave on a moment’s notice should conditions change and an order needs to be re-issued.”

The Evacuation Alerts in the Wasa, Tata Creek, Old Airport, Lakit Lake, McGinty Road, Clearview Road, Sommerfeldt Road, Woods Corner West, Campsall Road and Fort Steele areas all remain in effect.

Smoke may be visible as crews are conducting hand ignitions to burn out pockets of fuel on the St. Mary’s River wildfire Wednesday afternoon, according to an update from ʔaq̓am administration and the BC Wildfire Service.

The planned ignitions, on the eastern flank of the fire, will remove fuels near fire guards to reduce the chance of the wildfire spreading beyond control lines.

Additionally, there has been some creeping ground fire in the Airport Pasture — where there was a prescribed burn in the spring — in the southwest corner of fire, as well as previously burned area in the southeast corner from a previous wildfire in 2017.

However, there isn’t too much cause for concern on both those fronts, according to BC Wildfire Service Incident Commander Daniel Klein.

“We don’t expect prescribed fires to prevent growth of fire into them,” Klein said, during a daily video update on July 25. “What we do expect is that they prevent high-intensity fire. So we were expecting low-intensity fire, but because we did the [prescribed] burn this spring, we got rid of a lot of the surface fuel, and because we got a lot of that surface fuel removed, the fire doesn’t really have an opportunity to gain intensity and start crown fires or start candeling…”

Areas that have been scoured by a prescribed burn are safer for fire crews, as the potential for high intensity fire is lower, while also allowing BC Wildfire Service to allocate resources towards more higher priority areas, Klein added.

A similar concept applies to the southeast flank of the fire, where much of the surface fuels had been burned by a wildfire five years ago. Crews will be conducting hand ignitions in that area as well to burn out grass to a roadway control line, Klein added.

“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.

Currently, the St. Mary’s River wildfire is mapped at 4,093 hectares, but has been holding against containment lines for the last few days.

Klein also addressed a small pocket of fire that can be noticed west of the main fire perimeter on the BC Wildfire Service online map, which was a small fire that sparked from heavy machinery operations during work on a contingency line.

“It was a spot fire from equipment,” Klein said. “Crews were able to respond to it. The equipment operator was able to respond to it really quickly and get a machine guard around this spot.”

Resourcing on the St. Mary’s River wildfire has been reduced as other wildfires have blown up in the East Kootenay. Currently there are 100 firefighters on site, along with three helicopters assigned to fire response. Additionally, 80 structure protection personnel are currently being shared with the St. Mary’s River fire and the Lladner Creek wildfire west of Sparwood.