The Connell Ridge wildfire south of Cranbrook continues to grow to an estimated 850 hectares. Mike Turner photo.

The Connell Ridge wildfire south of Cranbrook continues to grow to an estimated 850 hectares. Mike Turner photo.

Wind spurs growth on large wildfire burning south of Cranbrook

The Connell Ridge wildfire 15 kilometres south of Cranbrook has grown to an estimated 850 hectares following heavy winds Wednesday evening but low-hanging smoke is making accurate perimeter mapping difficult.

According to the latest update from the BC Wildfire Service, the Connell Ridge fire continues to burn at a higher elevation as a low vigour surface fire with a slow rate of speed. However, occasional candeling was observed at the head of the fire, along with a moderate rate of speed.

There are 54 firefighters working on it, as primary objectives include setting up structure protection for nearby cabins and establishing staging areas. One helicopter is also assigned and will be bucketing on the south and west flanks, while fixed wing aircraft will be available to support as needed.

Ground crews and heavy equipment are also moving in to the staging area and establishing machine guard in strategic areas.

An evacuation alert for six properties south of Mount Baker remains in effect.

A special air quality statement for the East Kootenay and Kootenay Lake was issued by Environment Canada due to increasing levels of wildfire smoke.

Over in the West Kootenay, the Briggs Creek wildfire is estimated at 1,680 hectares, but hasn’t grown significantly within the last 24 hours and is currently burning as a smouldering ground fire with a slow rate of speed.

There are nine firefighters and one helicopter assigned to the fire. However, it is burning upslope in high elevation terrain, which is posing significant challenges for ground crews and resources, as responder safety is the primary priority.

That said, crews continue to work along the Keen Creek Forest Service Road (FSR) to keep the fire on the south slope, and will plan and locate areas where designated control lines can be connected and strengthened.

An evacuation alert has been issued for 14 properties in the Kaslo Creek South Fork Rd. area.

A 57-hectare fire burning north of Kitchner, near Creston, is now classified as being held, meaning that with the current resources committed, it is not expected to grow beyond predetermined boundaries under current conditions.

There are currently 13 active wildfires in the Southeast Fire Centre, which is included in the 313 active wildfires burning across the province.

Looking ahead

A lack of precipitation along with hotter than normal temperatures in July led to increased fire danger across the province, according to a BC Wildfire Service official.

The recent heat wave was caused by a ridge of high pressure, and when those ridges break down, lighting and gusty winds are typical, according to Neal McLoughlin, superintendent of predictive services, BC Wildfire Service.

Indeed, that’s what happened across the B.C. Interior.

“Over 35,000 lightning strikes were recorded during the last week of July in the southern and northeast portions of B.C. and as a result, we had 121 new fire starts in that period,” McLoughlin said.

Large wildfires that sparked in July are expected to remain active into August and additional fire growth can be expected. Above-seasonal temperatures are forecast throughout the August and into early September, however, intermittent periods of cooler temperatures, higher humidity and isolated rain, will help with fire suppression and early initial attack efforts.

Provincially, the number of wildfires and area burned are both below normal averages

For additional context, there are 320 properties under evacuation order, and 500 under evacuation alert across B.C. This time last year, there were 4,300 properties under evacuation order, and 21,000 on evacuation alert.

Government officials, including forests minster Katrine Conroy and public safety minister Mike Farnworth, urged people to make an emergency plan, FireSmart their properties, and stay informed on evolving wildfire situations.

“We all need to be informed, be safe, and be prepared,” said Farnworth. “The more prepared people are for an emergency such as wildfire, the more quickly and safely people are able to respond if the time comes.”