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Fires in Kootenays advance on homes, then retreat – but alerts still in place

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. Courtesy Michael Dill

UPDATE (July 6, 8 p.m.) – The threat from the Sitkum Creek fire appears to have lowered substantially. Monday’s relatively quiet day was attributed to shifting winds and the arsenal of resources thrown at it Sunday.   

Three-hundred-fifty residents are still on evacuation alert. 

The fire is estimated to be 380 hectares in size.

Previous coverage:

It’s been a harried 24 hours for several communities in the Kootenays.

Last night several fires expanded in the region, causing an evacuation order south of Cranbrook and an evacuation alert just next to Nelson.

And while the evacuation order was lifted, and flames retreated somewhat from the homes they were threatening, the tension remains.

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“It actually feels like we’re living in the apocalypse,” says Will Johnson, a local journalist.

He spent Saturday evening and Sunday morning near the Sitkum Creek fire, 10 kilometres northeast of Nelson. The fire started Saturday afternoon, and aided by winds rushed down the mountain on the north shore of Kootenay Lake. An evacuation alert was put in place for some 350 properties along Highway 3A between Sitkum Creek South and Willow Point.

The areas east of Nelson around Willow Point affected by the evacuation alert.
The areas east of Nelson around Willow Point affected by the evacuation alert.

Johnson spent much of the night at a house in the area, and he says the family that lives there isn’t used to this sort of fire activity.

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“They’ve lived there for 60 years, and they’ve never felt them threatening this way,” he said.

“I think people are alarmed. There’s hundreds of people sitting with their stuff packed at a moment’s notice. This could still change at any moment. I think people here understand the gravity of the situation.”

While the fire has retreated due to changing winds, the evacuation alert is still in place – and the fire itself has grown to more than 400 hectares.

“The BC Wildfire Service has 25 firefighters, four pieces of heavy equipment and two water tenders on scene. These resources are supported by helicopters and multiple airtanker groups, including four Air Tractor AT-802F “Fire Boss” amphibious airtankers which are scooping from Kootenay Lake,” said fire Information Officer Jordan Turner in a statement.

The winds did change, the fire continued to spread, but it didn’t reach a threshold where our personnel believed it was necessary to implement an evacuation order. There was enough distance.

Courtesy Adrian Wagner
Courtesy Adrian Wagner
Courtesy Amber Larsen
Courtesy Amber Larsen
Courtesy Adrian Wagner
Courtesy Adrian Wagner
Courtesy Bill Sproul
Courtesy Bill Sproul
Courtesy Courtney Thompson
Courtesy Courtney Thompson
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Courtesy Bill Sproul
Courtesy Bill Sproul

South of Cranbrook, a fire burning 1.5 kilometres east of Highway 95 near Baynes Lake expanded from 30 hectares to 140 hectares in the last 24 hours. An evacuation alert was issued for Kragmont around 3 a.m. on July 5, but was rescinded by 9 a.m. that same morning.

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Thirty firefighters are on scene there, in addition to two helicopters and five pieces of heavy equipment.

“The fire was showing very aggressive behaviour. It seemed possible that the fire would spread where it would into where these residents were living. During the night it did receive some precipitation and a change in the wind,” said Turner.

An evacuation alert has been issued for the community of Kragmont and a surrounding area to the south due to this wildfire.

An evacuation alert has also been issued for areas of Baynes Lake from the area north of 1347 Waldo Road to Kikomun Road.

Fire near Baynes Lake.
Fire near Baynes Lake. Christine Renstrom

Finally, a fire north of Highway 95 between Harrogate and Brisco grew to 54 hectares in size, closing the highway between Golden and Radium intermittently.

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An evacuation order remains in place for one home next to the Highway north of Spillimacheen.

An evacuation alert remains in place for an area south of the RDEK/CSRD boundary, from the east side of the Columbia River south to Westside Road in Spillimacheen.

An evacuation alert remains in place for Baynes Lake and the area previously under Order (the area south of 1347 Waldo Road, including the community of Kragmont and an area south of the river).

An evacuation alert has also been issued due to a wildfire burning near the community of Harrogate, in Electoral Area A of the Regional District.  Residents of the area should prepare and be ready to evacuate with very short notice.

WATCH: Jordan Armstrong recaps a busy day of wildfire fighting throughout B.C.