Cooler weather could offer respite to crews battling wildfire near Penticton, B.C.

·4 min read

VANCOUVER — Snow-making machines from a British Columbia mountain resort are being used for the first time in the province to fight wildfires, the BC Wildfire Service said Tuesday.

The equipment on Beaconsfield Mountain near Penticton has been running around the clock since Saturday as a nearby fire threatens Apex Mountain Resort and many homes nearby.

James Shalman, the general manager of the resort, said the idea to use snow-making machines originated 30 years ago and has remained in its fire-prevention plan ever since.

"This is nothing new. It's just new that we've had a fire," he said in an interview Tuesday. "We're doing everything we can at a preventive level."

Shalman, who is one of the essential staff members staying behind to help firefighters, said the machines are only a small part of all the tools being used to save the resort and homes out on the mountain.

He said Apex is one of the few resorts in B.C. that has enough snow-making machines for use from the top to the bottom of the mountain.

"We have that infrastructure in place, and we are using it to our advantage to fight this fire."

The wildfire now covers nearly 28 square kilometres after hot weather fuelled explosive growth since it was sparked Friday.

About 300 properties, including the resort, were ordered evacuated as the fire showed aggressive and unpredictable growth. An unoccupied cabin was destroyed.

Residents of more than 400 other properties have been told to be ready to leave on short notice.

Marg Drysdale, an information officer with the BC Wildfire Service, said114 wildland firefighters, 115 structural firefighters, air tankers and eight helicopters are being used to fight the flames.

"The fire is obviously a very dynamic situation that continues to be, but we are in preparation and have started doing some ignitions in order to decrease the fuels in the area," she said. "Ski hills are well plumbed so it's actually a really good resource to be used whenever there's a fire in the area."

Updated information from the BC Wildfire Service said weather in the Penticton area is slightly cooler and is expected to remain that way for the next several days, giving crews a chance to work on containment lines.

Shalman said the change in the weather has boosted morale at the resort.

"Everyone's hopeful, everyone is staying positive," he said. "As much as we want to be proactive, we have to be reactive when the fire starts moving or changing its pattern, and then we're going to do what we need to do to stop it."

The fire is one of three in the province ranked by the wildfire service as "fires of note" as of Tuesday.

Crews are also working on a 31-square-kilometre blaze in the Fraser Canyon west of Lytton and a fire 16 kilometres northwest of Kamloops.

The fire near Kamloops was first spotted July 29 after a fierce thunderstorm rolled through the area. The blaze was estimated at about 80 hectares Monday but the wildfire service said it had grown to 195 hectares by Tuesday and is ranked as out of control.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District issued an evacuation alert Monday for properties northwest of the Lac Du Bois Grasslands Protected Area and nearby areas including Pass Lake, McQueen Lake and Isobel Lake.

Another wildfire burning in the central Kootenay, north of Nelson, prompted an evacuation alert for 14 properties. Issued by the Regional District of Central Kootenay on Monday, residents were advised to move pets and livestock to a safe area and gather medications and other personal belongings in preparation for an order to leave on short notice.

The wildfire service website shows 88 active fires are burning in B.C., 44 of them sparked in the last two days, with the majority suspected to have been caused by lightning.

Wildfire danger across most of the southern half of B.C. is ranked at high or extreme, an indication that "fires will start easily, spread rapidly and challenge fire suppression efforts," the wildfire service says on its website.

The first campfire ban of the season was announced Monday and will take effect at noon Thursday across the Kamloops Fire Centre, which covers the region where both the Lytton and Penticton-area fires are burning.

The prohibition will remain in effect until noon on Oct. 15, or until the orders are rescinded.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 2, 2022.

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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