‘Who’s making the decisions?’ Criticism after Crater Creek wildfire explodes, growing 10 times in size

Click to play video: 'Keremeos area fires merge into large blaze'
Keremeos area fires merge into large blaze
The Crater Creek and Gillanders Creek wildfires have merged in the South Okanagan creating one massive blaze. As our Taya Fast reports, the aggressive wildfire has trigged a number of evacuation orders and alerts in the area – Aug 16, 2023

A wildfire burning near the small community of Keremeos in B.C.’s Southern Interior has generated a massive evacuation order.

Fanned by winds, the Crater Creek wildfire grew exponentially on Tuesday after merging with the nearby Gillanders Creek fire, exploding in size from an estimated 1,100 hectares to 10,000 as of Wednesday afternoon.

At its widest points, the evacuation order — which is mostly circular — is 40 kilometres wide, west to east, and 33 km north to south.

Click to play video: 'Wildfire cloud in Keremeos visible from 100 km away'
Wildfire cloud in Keremeos visible from 100 km away

It also spawned criticism from a local First Nation, which says it contacted BC Wildfire about the blaze when it was first spotted on July 22.

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Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band said this fire is similar to the 2018 Snowy Mountain fire, “where the decision to leave it burn, and then we run into a situation where we’re doing evacuation orders, state of emergency, evacuation alerts … all within an hour.”

Crow said he’s very frustrated with the process, “about the decision to just let things go on their own. I was just up on-site and noticed there were no helicopters again.”

The chief says he understands there are other fires throughout B.C., “and I don’t want to see anyone get hurt or anything like that, but, on the other side, I have to speak up for my community and the people in this valley.”

Click to play video: 'Forecast wind, lightning adding to high B.C. wildfire dangers'
Forecast wind, lightning adding to high B.C. wildfire dangers

Crow continued, saying he called two weeks ago and asked questions about “Where we at? What’s going on? What’s the process? How are decisions being made? We’re not being given answers.”

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According to Crow, 36 homes on First Nation land were ordered to evacuate, though he said some of the 75 or so people chose to stay.

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“Who makes these decisions?” asked Crow. “I really want to know who makes these decisions.”

A spokesperson for BC Wildfire said 2023 is proving to be a busy year, and that they’re having to prioritize their resources.

“We’re very busy within the province of British Columbia with wildfires. And, as such, we do have to prioritize life and property above remote forest values,” said Dale Bojahra of the BC Wildfire Service.

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Maui wildfires: Major road reopens in Lahaina as death toll climbs again

“I do understand that it’s easy for folks to look at these and say ‘Get these when they’re small.’ But these were not the only two fires in the fire zone or the fire centre at that time.

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“And so we had to prioritize as such. And we have to be mindful of our crew safety.”

Regarding aerial support, Bojahra said extremely smoky conditions are proving challenging, and that there “are limitations with the visibility.”

On Tuesday night, approximately 80 people at Cathedral Lakes Lodge were told to stay in place despite an evacuation order being issued for the area.

Those people were then safely evacuated in a convoy on Wednesday morning.

Click to play video: 'Large evacuations proving difficult in Northwest Territories as wildfires rage'
Large evacuations proving difficult in Northwest Territories as wildfires rage

“We are still confirming with all of our lists and our names and numbers that we have everyone accounted for,” said Brittany Seibert of the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen.

“That has been our highest priority.”

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Currently, BC Wildfire says eight wildland firefighters are on scene, along with some heavy equipment, and that crews will be focusing on the fire’s northern flank.

The evacuation order includes 13 properties in Electoral Areas B and G. It covers the Ashnola River and Ewart Creek, Cathedral Provincial Park, Cathedral Lakes Lodge and the Snowy Mountain Protection Area.

The evacuation alert covers 74 properties along Ashnola Road and River Road plus Highway 3 near the Red Bridge area west of Keremeos.

Click to play video: 'B.C. wildfire danger expected to spike'
B.C. wildfire danger expected to spike

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