Glen Burgess, incident commander for the Okanagan Complex of wildfires, says he can understand why people were nervous watching a new big plume of smoke rise from the Mount Eneas fire today.
But it was all part of a plan, he explained to a group of media this afternoon. BC Wildfire intentionally increased the size of the Mount Eneas fire, forcing it to join with the nearby Munro Forest Service Road Wildfire wildfire.
“The plume of smoke can be unnerving,” said Burgess, explaining that it was a choice between doing it themselves, under their own terms, or waiting for it to happen uncontrollably when an inevitable wind blew the fire up.
“The objective was to remove that fuel at our time when the weather was co-operating,” said Burgess.
Crews used helicopters to drop ping pong size balls — plastic spherical devices, Burgess called them — loaded with a small amount of chemicals that would ignite, causing new fires.
Prior to the drop, aerial tankers laid out lines of retardant to contain the fire.
“The plan was to remove the fuel between two fires,” Burgess said. He explained that ground crews could have done the work, but that would have put lives at risk unnecessarily.
“Things have gone well and we didn’t have anything go unexpectedly,” said Burgess.
“One of the reasons we wanted to do this today, is we haven’t moved into the hotter dryer weather that was predicted.”
The burn added about 150 hectares to the fire.
“The growth we saw today was a planned event,” said Burgess. “We will be in a much better position. The fire will be behind containment lines where we can work on it.
The good news, Burgess explained, is that winds aren’t expected to accompany the warming weather.
“At this point, our weather people are telling us we won’t be seeing the winds we saw a few days ago,” he said.
The Mt. Eneas wildfire is still considered out of control and the Central Okanagan Regional District say evacuation alerts will remain in effect overnight for 698 properties in the vicinity of the 1,400-hectare Mt. Eneas fire and the 150-hectare Munro Forest Service Road Wildfire.
In the Central Okanagan, the following addresses remain on evacuation alert: 7100 – 7210 Brent Rd.; 7212 – 7280 Highway 97 South; Finlay Creek Cabins.
All alerts and orders remain rescinded for the Goode’s Creek Wildfire south of Kelowna and the Law Creek Wildfire south of West Kelowna. BC Wildfire says no significant growth had occurred on either of these fires by mid-Sunday afternoon.
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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