Victoria Rowbottom photo A man looks on as jets of water from Malakwa and Sicamous firefighters douse a trailer engulfed in flames in Cambie Solsqua.

Brush fire rapidly becomes structural blaze

Shuswap fire departments stop trains to battle structural fire by tracks

One warm afternoon was all it took to allow a brush fire to develop into a structural fire.

At approximately 3 p.m. on Tuesday, May 2, Malakwa Fire Chief Joanne Held received a report of a brush fire near a property adjacent to the train tracks at the east end of Cambie Solsqua Road. Seven minutes later, she was on the scene, where she and her deputy fire chief found around 60 feet of burnt grass and old dead wood between the tracks and the property.

The fire quickly spread along the grass and beneath a trailer on the property. Held said by the time fire crews arrived on the scene, black smoke was billowing from the trailer.

Sicamous and Swansea Point fire departments were immediately called to provide mutual aid.

“My deputy chief immediately called for mutual aid, because of where it was – it could spread, and getting water into that area, we were going to need more manpower,” said Held.

CP Rail was also contacted to temporarily halt railway traffic as firefighters and their vehicles made their way onto the property.

“We were right there having to deal with the tracks, our fire crew safety comes first. That, plus the way we had originally set up our hoses to get as much water in there as fast as we could, some of our vehicles were sitting right on the tracks,” said Held. “Once we got situated, we tore things down, moved engines and stuff like that, and then we had a CP Rail guy, who actually used to be on our hall, he would stand beside me when the train was coming through so we could make sure none of our crew was anywhere near the tracks.

“Probably about an hour after we got things going and started to calm things down a bit, we got the trains rolling. What they ended up having to do is break their trains up a bit and reconnect farther down the line, because we also needed our tenders to be able to get in and out.”

The approximately 30 firefighters on the scene undertook an external attack, drawing water off the three fire department’s engines, as well as a river pump to contain the fire, which had spread to the trailer, an attached deck and an old horse trailer.

Held said it was a challenging battle, noting she wasn’t familiar with the property and the different structures and logging equipment being stored on it. It was about three hours before fire crews began returning to their respective halls.

Held said no one was injured in the fire. She said there was one person living on the property who tried his best to control it but was limited in what he could do, as he did not have access to running water.

As for the cause, Held said the resident had been burning chunks of wood and grass on the property on Sunday, “and what we think may have happened is we think there may have been an old cottonwood root or something, where the fire went down underneath his fire pit, through the root and came up in among all the other stuff…

“Even as wet as it has been, when you’ve got tall grass like that… it doesn’t take long for that dry, dead stuff to dry out enough to cause a fire.”