White Rock Lake wildfire could burn into winter, say officials

An aerial view of trees burned by the White Rock Lake wildfire near Monte Lake, B.C. Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press

The White Rock Lake wildfire is classified as being under control, but officials say it could burn until winter.

The massive blaze, which destroyed dozens of properties after being first discovered on July 13, isn’t expected to grow beyond its estimated size of 83,342 hectares.

However, in its daily fire update on Thursday, the BC Wildfire Service said the fire continues to burn deep underground as a result of severe drought conditions throughout much the fire perimeter.

Read more: White Rock Lake wildfire under control after nearly two months of wreaking havoc

“Given the extent and intensity of this wildfire, residual hot spots and smoke well within the fire’s perimeter will continue to be highly visible over the coming weeks,” said BC Wildfire, noting the fire’s perimeter is being actively monitored and patrolled.

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“Hot spots are being identified using thermal imaging technology and all hot spots within 100 feet of the fire perimeter will continue to be extinguished by ground personnel.”

The wildfire service continued, saying “smoking stumps and roots within the secured fire perimeter pose no risk of fire spread and will continue to burn into the winter. Although smoke will continue to be visible, there is no threat of further spread.”

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More White Rock Lake fire evacuees return home after month-long displacement – Sep 6, 2021

A fire that burns throughout winter is called a ‘zombie’ fire — it smoulders and burns underground, then resurfaces in spring.

In May, a study titled ‘Overwintering fires in boreal forests’ was published in the science journal Nature, and it discussed how some fires can survive winter if the conditions are right.

“Between 2002 and 2018, overwintering fires were responsible for 0.8 per cent of the total burned area,” said the study.

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“However, in one year this amounted to 38 per cent. The spatiotemporal predictability of overwintering fires could be used by fire management agencies to facilitate early detection, which may result in reduced carbon emissions and firefighting costs.”

Visit this website to read the study.

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Going back to the White Rock Lake blaze, BC Wildfire noted that a quite large area restriction order is still in effect, and that no hunting is permitted in that area.

“This area restriction is to provide for the safety and security of wildland firefighters, and the general public,” said BC Wildfire.

“There are extreme dangers within the wildfire perimeter like ash pits, falling trees, falling rocks, unstable slopes, burnt over roads, etc. Conservations officers are regularly patrolling the area restriction, and fines will be given out to anyone found accessing the area.”

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Also Thursday, the Regional District of North Okanagan rescinded the fire’s last remaining evacuation order.

That order was for properties on Bouleau Lake and Pinaus Lake, with the RDNO stating that property owners or licensed holders can now travel to their properties to begin assessing damage.

Also in its update, BC Wildfire said 92 firefighters were on scene, along with five helicopters, four danger-tree fallers and 14 pieces of heavy equipment.

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