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Crews contain two fires in Tappen

A South Shuswap firefighter and Tappen-Sunnybrae Fire Chief Kyle Schneider, far right, watch as a Ministry of Forests helicopter dumps water on a large pile of rail ties. The fire in the CP rail ties spread from a hog pile that spontaneously combusted late Wednesday afternoon.  - photo contributed
A South Shuswap firefighter and Tappen-Sunnybrae Fire Chief Kyle Schneider, far right, watch as a Ministry of Forests helicopter dumps water on a large pile of rail ties. The fire in the CP rail ties spread from a hog pile that spontaneously combusted late Wednesday afternoon.
— image credit: photo contributed

Hard work, co-operation and luck kept a fire at Lakeside Timber Mill on the Trans-Canada Highway in Tappen from growing into a serious wildfire.

A hog (sawdust) pile beside the mill spontaneously combusted yesterday afternoon and spread to a nearby 12- to 15-foot pile of railway ties.

Tappen-Sunnybrae Fire Chief Kyle Schneider says the hall got the call at 5:33 p.m. and the first truck was rolling two minutes later, arriving on scene at 5:47 p.m. to find the hog pile fully involved.

The beehive burner located right beside the sawdust pile had been turned off at 10 a.m. yesterday, says Schneider, noting firefighters worked to knock the fire down quickly.

"As we were hitting remaining hot spots, I looked over at the CP (Rail) yard and they had a pile of a few hundred railway ties that had caught on fire," says Schneider. "So we had a second fire going."

Schneider called the Shuswap Fire department, who sent 11 firefighters, an engine and two tenders to help quell the fire.

When the fire began spreading to nearby trees, a call for help was issued to the Ministry of Forests, who responded with a three-person Rapattack crew, a response officer and a helicopter.

"We had an issue where we were hitting it with water and it was knocking flames into the trees, so stopped that right away," says Schneider, noting firefighters had to pull the lines around to the back of the pile of rail ties. "That's when the helicopter arrived and it was great. It helped the most."

The Rapattack crew went 25 feet into the brush, where they hit water and determined there was no fire.

Because of the hot weather, a "rehab unit" was called in to make sure firefighters were kept hydrated.

"There's a time limit on how long firefighters can be on a fire, then they have to come out for a mandatory break," says Schneider. "They get their vitals checked, and they get food and rehydrated and are allowed back on the fire when their pulse is back down to normal."

Firefighters, including 11 from the Tappen-Sunnybrae Firehall, were on scene for three hours and 45 minutes.

"It was very breezy; if it had been blowing off the lake it could have been a very different story," he said. "Every time something is in the trees and it doesn't cause a major event, we get off lucky."

While campfires are still permitted, Schneider is recommending enthusiasts hold off until it rains – particularly since Sunnybrae was expected to be back up to the extreme danger as of 1 p.m. today.

According to Doug Lundquist, warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, says that's not likely to happen any time soon.

Lundquist is predicting a heat wave beginning this weekend – a period of five or more days with temperatures that are five degrees above average – in this case well above the 26C average high for this time of year.

"It will be extremely hot and dry for the next 10 days or so," he says. "Overall, the rest of summer and into early fall is going to be hotter than normal."

In terms of precipitation, Lundquist says forecasts beyond a week are not predictable.

With the extended period of heat coming, Lundquist cautions people to protect themselves from the sun, keep themselves hydrated and look out for the elderly people in their lives and neighbourhoods.

Like Schneider, Lundquist worries about fires and forecasts a ban on campfires in the near future.

Fire protection officer Larry Osachoff agrees, noting fire officials will be discussing the possibility early in the week.

Fire season is underway and Osachoff says the Shuswap is expected to have lightning strikes over the weekend.

People are reminded to report any smoke or flame at 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on most cellular networks.

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