No structures were lost Wednesday night to the Lower East Adams Lake wildfire, and an increasing firefighting presence is working to make sure none are.
On Thursday afternoon, Aug. 3, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) and the Shuswap Emergency Program (SEP) hosted an online public information meeting with BC Wildfire Service Information Officer Forrest Tower.
When unexpected northerly winds began pushing the wildfire southward toward properties along the lake late Wednesday afternoon, Tower said the BC Wildfire Service immediately mobilized resources.
“Upon that happening, air tankers were launched, our entire skimmer fleet that’s based in Kamloops was launched, ground personnel were brought over…,” said Tower, explaining crews worked through the night to stop the fire’s spread towards the nearby community and to protect structures.
“Crews were able to work in areas where it came close to properties, they were able to conduct ignitions right off of Rawson Road – they engaged in that overnight and were able to kind of stir the fire away from properties.”
Tower said areas where the blaze burned near homes were being mopped up and patrolled, adding there would most likely be an increase in fire activity Thursday afternoon.
“We have mass water delivery systems, we have north of 70-80 people working in the community and more… in terms of structure protection arriving,” said Tower.
Before providing an update on the fire, estimated to be 2,527 hectares burned before flames began to spread on Wednesday, Tower offered some explanation behind BCWS projections that suggested for the next three to 10 days the blaze would pose no imminent threat to structures to the south. He said the projections, determined Tuesday, were the result of a combination of various data points. However, he said changes in wildfires can be influenced by many variables, “especially when we do have a large wildfire burning next to a body of water… and steep topography….”
“Not every forecast that’s made is going to come to fruition in real life,” said Tower. “Again, if that was the case, it would be very easy to manage wildfires, if we could predict the future.”
On Monday, BCWS was not expecting the “worst-case scenario,” of the fire moving towards structures, it was announced Structure Protection Units positioned at properties south of the Adams Lake East blaze would be moving to Osoyoos and the Ross Moore Lake wildfire near Kamloops.
The changing fire conditions on Wednesday resulted in the issuance of evacuation orders and alerts around the south end of the lake.
Connie Berkley, who owns the Adams Lake Store across the water from the evacuation area, described a scene of confusion as people sobbed over having to leave their homes and their pets, wondering where to park their cars and deal with their boats.
There is just one road in and out of the area, which includes a cable ferry with limited capacity, and residents were waiting to be taken to the other side of the lake Wednesday afternoon “when all hell broke loose,” Berkley said in an interview on Thursday.
With the fire flaring for a couple of weeks, Berkley said she and others have been left wondering why it wasn’t doused earlier.
“They should have been on their way before they were,” she said. “All I can say is it’s very sad for me as a business owner and as someone who lives in this beautiful country, and that to just let the trees burn makes no sense to me.”
Tower said the blaze had been moving away from structures until the “drastic wind shift” caught forecasters by surprise.
“This isn’t something we are trying to hide from,” said Tower, referring to the projections. “It was an accurate statement when it was released. It was what the data we were working on reflected and really, in the end, what we are trying to do as an organization is be more transparent and share with partners and the public and media some of the decision-making tools we use.”
Despite evacuation orders, some people chose to stay.
CSRD Emergency Operations Centre director John MacLean said those who stayed behind are expected to remain at their properties and are not allowed to come and go.
“If they want to come out, we will come get them,” said MacLean, adding security is in place to protect homes affected by the evacuation order.
Following the evacuation order on Wednesday night, Shuswap Search and Rescue (SAR) helped in the efforts to ensure that the residents on the east side of Adam’s Lake were safe.
SEP Emergency Support Services’s Cathy Semchuk said a reception centre for evacuees was set up at the Quaaout Lodge, but it will be moving to the CSRD building in Salmon Arm. She urged those with properties on evacuation alert to have a grab-and-go bag ready, taking it with them if they should go out anywhere. With a long weekend ahead, she also advised arranging alternative accommodations, as they will likely be limited. Semchuk also recommended registering on the BC government’s webpage for emergency support services at ess.gov.bc.ca.
With files from The Canadian Press
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