The St. Mary’s River wildfire is officially being held, meaning that it is not expected to grow beyond pre-existing boundaries under prevailing conditions.
The designation was announced on July 28, nearly two weeks after the fire first started due to suspected downed power lines, growing to over 40 square kilometers in and around the ʔaq̓am community north of Cranbrook.
“With the help of contract crews, air crews and heavy equipment operators, we were able to bring the fire [under control],” said Bruce Ralston, Minster of Forests, during a press conference with provincial emergency response officials on Aug. 2. “I’d like to extend my thanks to our partners and local communities in the area for their invaluable support of our firefighting crews.
“Let me also acknowledge that the St. Marry’s River wildfire had significant impacts for the ʔaq̓am Community of St. Mary’s Indian Band. Despite their hardship, the community welcomed the BC Wildfire Service while also supporting each other. I want to thank the ʔaq̓am Community for their graciousness, warmth and kindness in such a trying time.”
So now what happens?
While it is being held, it is still an active fire that has yet to move to a technical ‘under control’ designation as defined by the BC Wildfire Service.
The potential for flare ups remains, as it did on Aug. 2 when a large plume of smoke was highly visible in the afternoon with strong winds agitating fire behaviour.
While it’s impossible to pinpoint specific BC Wildfire Service resourcing over the coming days and weeks, there will be personnel on site to patrol the fire’s perimeter and extinguish hot spots, conduct drone scans to detect areas with heat output as well as assessing and falling danger trees, among many other tasks.
“That is our goal, to continue to make sure we have trigger points identified so if there is a weather event coming in, we can have the appropriate resources if we believe that fire may pop back up and challenge our containment lines,” said Cliff Chapman, director, wildfire operations for the BC Wildfire Service.
The wildfire destroyed seven homes in the ʔaq̓am Community, and 36 properties still remain on evacuation order. Nearly two dozen are still on evacuation alert, while alerts for hundreds of properties outside of the community in the RDEK’s jurisdiction have been rescinded.
Bowinn Ma, the Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, noted she has been in contact with ʔaq̓am leadership, and spun up a team that is working with a number of partner agencies to help and assess next steps are required to move the community towards recovery.