This is one of the terrifying scenes Johnson Road resident Jeanene Pierce captured of the advancing Silver Creek fire of 1998. (Photo contributed)

Column: Caution is key in preventing fires

Salmon Arm is topping the danger rating charts at 5 or extreme danger

While thumbing through a bound copy of the July 30, 2008 Salmon Arm Observer, I found a column I had written about the Silver Creek fire that razed 6,000 hectares of land, caused the evacuation of some 7,000 Salmon Arm and Silver Creek residents, destroyed 40 buildings and cost $10 million to extinguish. While some of the details have faded, others are forever burned into my mind, emerging very clearly when temperatures climb above 35 C and smoke softens surrounding scenery.

A lightning strike and a seemingly simple column of smoke spawned by a lightning strike at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 29 grew to a huge fireball that roared down the Fly Hills and up Mt. Ida, devouring everything in its path and hurling live cinders onto tinder-dry properties.

That fire challenged firefighters and fire-behaviour specialists who, until Aug. 5, did not believe the fire would come down off the Flys. But it did, in just a mater of minutes. Some 7,000 residents left the community without incident in what was, at the time, the largest evacuation in B.C. history – a testimony to the people in charge and evacuees. Evacuation of the hospital and care homes was also carried out without incident.

I was and continue to be proud of and grateful to fire officials, police, firefighters and the hundreds of volunteers who stepped up to ensure the safety of others and helped those who suffered such devastating losses.

The late Robert Muirhead’s cartoon brings to mind the intense sights and sounds Salmon Arm residents woke up to every morning that firefighters worked to quell the blaze. Thanks to Salmon Arm Museum curator Deborah Chapman, we are able to run it on this page again. Like many others in town, I am, once again, holding my breath – grateful that we have escaped unscathed so far this year, but knowing full well a single spark could ignite another firestorm.

Caution is paramount! Salmon Arm is topping the danger rating charts at 5 or extreme danger, while Sicamous and Seymour Arm are a tad lower, with a rating of 4 – high danger.

This is why the province has banned campfires. Cigarette butts tossed carelessly on the ground are notorious for sparking fires and anyone using grinders or welding tools needs to be mindful of where they’re doing it.

While the City of Salmon Arm is looking at ways to reduce forest fuels and hopeful a new provincial initiative will include funds for work on municipal land, we as residents need to take responsibility for reducing the fuel load on our own properties. Free Fire Smart manuals provide details and are available at Firehall #3 downtown, city hall and the Columbia Shuswap Regional District office on Harbourfront Drive.

There is rain in the forecast and I for one will be doing the happy dance when it arrives.


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