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BC Wildfire Service defends planned ignition in North Shuswap

Criticism grows after wildfires ravaged the region
Coleen Karr posted this photo Friday afternoon from Scotch Creek. (Facebook)

Kamloops This Week

Cliff Chapman of the BC Wildfire Service has addressed claims on social media concerning personnel numbers on the Bush Creek East fire in the Shuswap and details of the Aug. 17 planned ignition.

The BC Wildfire Service undertook a planned ignition last week near Lee Creek and Scotch Creek in an effort to burn off fuel between the fire and previously established fire guards. The plan was to ignite the flames as winds were blowing from the south, onto the fire itself. Winds were expected to shift from the north later that night on Aug. 17, at which time flames from the fire would approach the already burned stretch of land from the ignition.

Chapman said the Bush Creek East fire went above the control line that the BC Wildfire Service had burned off, then swept back into the North Shuswap communities.

“We were still successful in protecting some of those properties along the North Shuswap, in the hundreds,” Chapman said. “Unfortunately, we’ve also now seen the devastation the main body of that fire had in areas like Scotch Creek, Celista and others. And our hearts go out to those individuals who have seen the devastating impacts of that fire making its push.”

Chapman said planned ignition is used quite frequently in B.C. and across the globe, noting that when conditions are as dry as they are in the province right now, traditional firefighting tactics, such as using water bombers and ground operations, will not be successful.

“Eliminating the fuel is, in a lot of cases, the best way to try to protect any infrastructure and values ahead of the front of a fire,” he said.”And when we know that there’s 40- to 50 -kilometre sustained winds coming, we knew that we had to eliminate that fuel. And again, I would like to stress it was largely successful and it protected hundreds of properties in the Shuswap area.”

Chapman added that it was not the planned ignition that allowed the two fires — Lower East Adams Lake and Bush Creek East — in the Adams Lake area to merge.

“It was actually the cold front wind that pushed the fires together and merging them towards Highway 1, which ultimately led to the closure of Highway 1,” Chapman said.

He was asked how confident he is stating no additional homes were lose due to the decision to proceed with the planned ignition.

“I am very confident that that planned ignition went ahead under the right planning context, to remove fuel between the main body of the fire and the communities in the North Shuswap,” Chapman said. “I am confident it was not our planned ignition that made that fire move into the North Shuswap. The winds were 40 kilometres an hour, sustained. We saw that fire make a 22-kilometre run around our planned ignition. I am confident that planned ignition removed fuel and saved homes.

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Jim Cooperman, who lives in Lee Creek and whose home survived the wildfire, disagrees with Chapman’s assessment.

“The fire itself was directly caused by the fire service because they let a back burn, a controlled burn, at the worst time and without doing proper reconnaissance,” he told KTW.

“It’s a risky maneuver, doing a back burn, doing a controlled burn to try to stop a raging fire. And they did it because they were concerned that the wind was going to blow it our way. So they did it just before the windstorm. And, as a result, instead of a large fire, it was an enormous fire,” Cooperman said.

“I mean, the media cannot take the word of the government at face value and not listen to the locals. I mean, I was there. They lit the fire right behind our house. I could see it. It looked like a mushroom cloud. It wasn’t successful at all. It made things far worse. They didn’t take into account Lee Creek Canyon, so it crept under the power line where there was no fire guard and got into our community. Then, because it was so large, it blew across Scotch Creek, the actual creek itself, and caused mayhem and burned so many houses and businesses. It’s an absolute nightmare, an apocalyptic scene in the North Shuswap.”

Meanwhile, there have been posts online that claim the BC Wildfire Service took firefighters off the Shuswap fire and redeployed them to the McDougall Creek blaze in West Kelowna.

“There is a lot of stress about what happened and what are we doing now,” Chapman said during a press conference on Monday, Aug. 21, updating the wildfire situation in the B.C. Interior.

“We are always prioritizing resources. We are not only prioritizing the McDougall fire in West Kelowna and Kelowna, but we are prioritizing resources in Adams Lake and Kookipi Creek in the Fraser Canyon. We evaluate ground operations daily and make decisions where resources go based on impacts on life and property.”

While noting resources will fluctuate based on need, Chapman said there are 385 firefighting personnel on the Bush Creek East fire, 180 at blazes in the Fraser Canyon and 164 at the McDougall Creek fire in West Kelowna/Kelowna.
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