Residents of Burns Lake are concerned with the recent wildfire situation, therefore a community wildfire update meeting was held at the Gathering Place on July 15, 2023 at 3 p.m.
It was a full house at the meeting, representatives from B.C. WildFire Service, Burns Lake Volunteer Fire Department, Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako and the Village of Burns Lake were present to give updates.
Chief Wesley Sam said he wants to gives hands up and applause to everyone for what they are doing with limited resources.
He said, the six local First Nation chiefs are in regular contact through meetings and are working together. He is aware about what each community is doing and all the hurdles that everyone is going through.
“Our politicians, our elected leaders, our elected chiefs are all pushing for state of emergency for more equipment on a regular basis. We are in a weird situation in B.C. It’s basically a fire storm. We also need more from our local contractors much as possible moving through this storm as much as possible in Burns Lake,” he said.
B.C. Wildfire Service Incident Commander Steve Lemon gave all the updates about the multiple fires that are happening currently. His presentation consisted of maps highlighting all the wildfire zones near Burns Lake.
He says, the primary fires within the Nadina complex is within Tintagel, Parrot Lookout, Peacock Creek, the Oldman Lake and the Pinkut Creek. He has 119 structure protection folks who are running firetrucks working day in day out trying their best to protect all the structures and networking facilities, 17 helicopters, 80 pieces of heavy equipment coming from all different contractors within the community. Eleven field staff are assigned to supervise and managing the equipment and a whole bunch of additional support personal. Right now, a camp is being built up on the Babine Lake Road to house approximately 300 people with all the equipment and services necessary for fighting the wildfires. These services includes, plumbers, electricians, catering, gas fitters and so on.
He said, “We are building a small community up on the Babine Lake Road to house and feed all the firefighters.”
Weather has been a critical challenge and the heavy layers of smoke for the last several days made navigation, aviation and breathing harder, he said.
He stated, the heavy smoke also reduces the explosive nature of the fires and suppresses them but how the recent low humidity climatic conditions make fires behave explosively. He is expecting the humidity to drop by 40 per cent which will prevent the explosive behaviour of the fires.
Right now, climatic conditions might start to become favourable although fingers-crossed for the upcoming long dry summer. He said, “[There is] no significant rain in the forecast.”
Ryan Chapman, Deputy Fire Centre Manager of the Northwest Fire Centre said, “Our whole province is busy. But this is our number one focus.”
He said the province is behind all the support and getting more support will surely come. Lemon and his team are advocating for more resources and more are coming even though everyone is stretched.
He states, more firemen are needed to back up the Coastal GasLink logging contractors and operating the heavy equipment.
“This is a whole province effort and the community is going to see different people coming here to help,” he said.
He says his job is to provide local connections, knowledge and continuity for Lemon and others who are coming to help with the fires.
Rob Krause Director of Protective Services and Fire Chief of Burns Lake Fire Department said, “Burns Lake has an evacuation plan that includes Highway 16 East or West depending on the ongoing fire activities. It also has a plan route identified that will take us North away from town and South, if it is extremely necessary.
He says, right now the number one priority is to keep all the residents safe.
Krause’s job is to protect the infrastructure, the power lines, the microwave towers on Boer Mountain, residential homes and businesses. He said, the department has recently installed over 15 kilometers of large Boyer fire hose and it is running water from Burns Lake, under the railroad tracks, under Highway 16 and all the way up to Tintagel Road East and West to fight the fires.
He also said, it is best to keep gas in your car that can get you all the way to Smithers or Prince George immediately right now. Therefore, keeping full tank gas is absolutely necessary.
Mark Parker, Director and Chairperson of Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako said, “Currently there are 10 evacuation orders, 13 evacuation alerts, and overall approximation of 354 orders and 1300 alerts across the regional district.”
He said, this is a something the regional district has never seen. He also said, B.C. Wildfire Service has the information on fires, the RDBN can only issue alerts and orders and the information is available in their website and Facebook page.
He urges residents to use the “Voyent Alert System.” He said there approximately 600 units of properties and it’s impossible to go to door to door to alert everyone. This Voyent Alert can be accessed with anything, though Facebook, email, telephone and even personal cellphones. Therefore, it is necessary to use this alert system.
For more information to know about the wildfires and other fire related discussions, B.C. Wildfire Service urges residents to call their active communication number which is 778-362-6020. They can also be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.