Wildfires burn in backcountry near Fairmont

Lightning has caused two wildfires in the East Kootenay; more expected this week

This 15-hectare fire near Brewer Creek is visible from the highway in Fairmont

This 15-hectare fire near Brewer Creek is visible from the highway in Fairmont

Several wildfires are burning in the East Kootenay, seemingly sparked by a lightning storm over the weekend.

“We had some lightning move through yesterday and we are starting to see a few starts from the lightning,” said Fionna Tollovsen, Fire Information Offiver with the Southeast Fire Centre.

The largest fire is located near Fenwick Creek, about 30 kilometres east of Fairmont in the Rocky Mountains.

It was discovered on Monday, August 20, and is currently around 30 hectares in size.

“We currently have air tankers on site. Twenty crew members are also on site with a helicopter,” said Tollovsen.

The air tankers lay retardant on the fire to stop it from spreading, Tollovesen explained, allowing crews on the ground to build a guard around the fire and start suppression efforts.

A second fire was discovered Monday, burning near Brewer Creek, about 15 kilometres west of Fairmont and visible from the highway. It grew rapidly from around four hectares in size to about 15 hectares Tuesday afternoon.

Air tankers were on hand Monday, and Tuesday 20 personnel were on ground, supported by one helicopter. It’s still in the initial attack stage, according to the Fire Centre.

Meanwhile, a larger fire near Creston is now out. Discovered on August 8 on Skimmerhorn Mountain, it grew to 56 hectares on difficult, steep terrain. But is now 100 per cent contained.

“Crews are finishing mopping up and ensuring there are no hot spots. Other than that, it is contained.”

However, stormy weather early this week could have caused new fires to start, and the Fire Centre is on guard.

“We are making sure our crews are ready,” said Tollovsen. “If we get calls from the public about columns of smoke, we are investigating those.

“If the public does see a column of smoke or open flame, they should definitely call our reporting line at 1-800-663-5555.”

There is still no campfire ban, but be prepared for that to change if hot weather persists.

“We are expecting conditions to cool down slightly later in the week, so that will help negate the need for a campfire ban. But if we keep seeing hot, dry temperatures with lots of lightning and with little precipitation, it is something we will have to look at,” said Tollovsen. “Right now, it is not needed.”

There is an open fire ban in place; this prohibits slash, waste or grass burning and the use of fireworks. Campfires must be kept to half a metre wide by half a metre tall.

The haze that seems to have settled over Cranbrook and Kimberley this week is not coming from local fires, Tollovsen explained – it is drifting up from large fires in Idaho in Washington.

“We are experiencing a general haze across a lot of areas. That haze still seems to be from the fires in the States. Although we do have active fires, they are not nearly large enough to produce the amount of smoke that we are seeing,” said Tollovsen.

“We are expecting the smoke to clear up near Thursday. The weather pattern we are in now is bringing the smoke up.”