Rick Koch photo One of the aircraft being used to fight the wildfire on Angle Mountain takes water from Little Shuswap Lake.

Fires double up Shuswap smoke

Officials asking public to use extreme caution, especially in the backcountry.

It’s a double whammy for smoke in the Shuswap this week.

The acrid, ash-filled smoke is emanating from Washington State and the Elephant Hill fire which has caused the evacuation of Clinton.

That fire is now more than 78,548 hectares and only 30 per cent contained, said Kamloops Fire Centre fire information officer Max Birkner Monday.

Discovered on July 20, the Angle Mountain wildfire above St. Ives has been held to eight hectares.

As of 10 a.m. Monday, 28 firefighters were working on the ground with air support available if needed.

“The very key point here is the steep terrain, which is making fighting the fire very difficult,” says Birkner. “This type of fire can take a very long time to contain because of the steep terrain.”

Also suspected to be lightning-caused, the Mt. Chase fire remains at eight hectares and is under control, says Birkner, noting patrols will keep an eye on the fire, which is remote and not threatening any structures.

“They really hit it hard at the beginning and due to the early action, they got it under control very quickly,” he said, pointing out with the number of aircraft flying around the area, there will be many eyes on the fire. “Smoke might flare up a bit in the afternoon, as it always does.”

With temperatures expected to hit the 40 C mark this week, fire officials are asking everyone to be extra vigilant in the backcountry. Local backcountry user groups are engouraging the same.

The Shuswap Trail Alliance warns that all trails in the Shuswap are within the Extreme Fire Warning area, and asks that backcountry users obey all trail closures. Meanwhile, Salmon Arm ATV Club president Allen Walker says he is staying out of the backcountry for the time being.

“I just know that officially, the bush is not shut down, but they are discouraging people from going out…,” said Walker. “I personally haven’t been out. I just couldn’t live with myself if something bad happened.”

As fire danger ratings are high to extreme throughout the Kamloops Fire Centre, campfires are prohibited and fines are substantial for those who are not getting the message.

In a July 29 Facebook post, the BC Wildfire Service asked members of the public to steer clear of areas where crews are battling wildfires.

“There have been multiple incidents over the past two days of fire fighting having to be halted because of interference from the public,” read the post, pointing to incidents involving off-road vehicles entering an active fire area, forcing helicopters to stop dropping water on the fire.

In the Shuswap, interference relates to boaters getting in the way of skimmers and helicopters who are taking on water to fight fires in steep terrain.

“The Shuswap is busy in summer and the lake is big,” says fire information officer Rachel Witt. “We do understand that everyone has a cellphone and wants to get photos and videos, but make sure you move out of the way and let the pilots do their job. If there is any threat to safety of crews or aircraft, we can’t work.”

According to the Facebook post, RCMP and conservation officers will be increasing their patrols in areas where interference with firefighting operations is occurring.

On the good news front, with many evacuees returning to Williams Lake, Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s Shuswap Emergency Program has closed the emergency social services reception centre.

The reception centre opened on Sunday, July 16 and served 843 evacuees. Many of them came to Salmon Arm because they knew someone here, so, while few made use of the long list of billet opportunities, they did appreciate the offer.

If the need arises, the centre can be ramped up again quickly.

In the meantime, if someone needs assistance, they may call 250-833-5927 during CSRD’s regular office hours.