August 4, 2018 12:26 pm
Updated: August 4, 2018 5:42 pm

Snowy Mountain wildfire encroaching on Canada-US border


The Snowy Mountain wildfire is bordering on becoming more than B.C.’s problem.

Burning out of control in the Similkameen region, the wildfire has exploded in size recently, going from 3,050 hectares on Tuesday to 6,594 hectares on Thursday to 10,911 hectares on Friday. Overnight and early morning winds have been fanning the flames and increasing its overall size.

READ MORE: BC Wildfire Service issues call for help in firefight

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On Saturday morning, the B.C. Wildfire Service said winds are still plaguing its fight, and the fire is still growing, with a new estimate expected later on. In addition, the fire is now encroaching on the B.C. and Washington state border, and it could cross stateside.

“We are in conversation with our partners in Washington state, just in case that does happen, in order to brief them on the situation and develop a plan to collaborate if needed,” said BCWS information officer Claire Allen.

A dozen helicopters are splitting their time between bucketing the Snowy Mountain wildfire — and the nearby 2,300 hectare Placer Mountain blaze. Eighty firefighters are also at Snowy mountain.

A spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said the Snowy Mountain wildfire was approximately 4.8 kilometres (three miles) from the border, but that it had grown Friday night. The spokesperson said DNR is working with other agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service and BCWS, in case the fire does cross the border.

“When the fire crosses the border, either into British Columbia or to Washington state, we’re all in sync anyway, ahead of the game, always coordinating with British Columbia. Our fire operations manager is in constant contact with them,” DNR spokesperson Janet Pearce said from Olympia, Wash.

“Fire doesn’t know any boundaries, and the Snowy (Mountain wildfire) is three miles north of the border, but since I received that message this morning, they said it had grown a little bit more south, so it could be two miles outside Washington. But a lot of our fire operations staff is meeting with all the others around, and we’re going to try to prep for that fire moving south so we can maybe stop it.”

Asked if it’s common, fires crossing the border, Pearce said “It seems to every year. It’s either a Washington fire going into B.C., or B.C. going into Washington, and we get it on all sides of us, except the ocean, from Idaho and Oregon.

“It makes sense why we have inter-agency firefighting, just because it takes all of us, not one agency.”

The explosion in size prompted the Regional District of the Okanagan Similkameen to issue a state of local emergency for the area on Friday, a measure which allows local authorities to utilize emergency powers, such as being able to order the evacuation of residents, prohibit travel and enter private properties.

Also Friday, an evacuation order was issued for three properties in the Chopaka Bridge area. Earlier in the week, evacuation alerts were issued for 869 properties in the Keremeos and Cawston areas.

Regarding the weather, wind was breezing through Keremeos on Saturday morning at approximately 24 km/h. On Friday, Allen said wind gusts have been ranging between 25 km/h and 50 km/h.

“That’s really been the challenge, in the overnight period, is that we’re getting strong winds that are difficult to predict when they’re going to start and how strong they’re going to be,” said Allen. “Last night, we were hit with extreme winds.

“We did have night crews working with the Keremeos Fire Department again. They were working in the Chopaka Road area, which is to the southeast flank of the fire and just above the U.S. border. And that’s where we saw a lot of the growth last night. Our crews were out there last night prioritizing both life and safety within that evacuation order area.”

The Lower Similkameen Indian Band declared a state of emergency on Aug. 2, and on Saturday said there are currently 21 homes under an evacuation order.

Also on Saturday, a storage building behind a restaurant in Keremeos caught fire.

The Keremeos Fire Department said the storage building was fully involved when crews arrived on scene at approximately 12:30 a.m., and that embers were making their way towards a home improvement building next door. Approximately 20 firefighters were on scene, and it’s not yet known what caused the fire.

In related news, a portion of Highway 3 in B.C. was temporarily closed in both directions on Saturday because of fire concerns, but is now reopened to traffic. The closure took place 10 kilometres east of Keremeos. DriveBC says motorists can expect congestion and delays.

BCWS said the highway closure was caused by two new fires.

“There was no spot fire activity there,” Allen said when asked if embers from the Snowy Mountain fire caused the two new fires. “Just the way the winds were blowing, it wouldn’t have gone that way. So we are treating these as two, new independently caused fires, and the cause is under investigation at this time.”

READ MORE: Wildfires close Highway 93 from Radium Hot Springs to Alberta border until Aug. 5

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