Shambhala dodges evacuation alert

Festival director Jimmy Bundschuh expresses confidence in evacuation plan

Nelson’s Mooves performed at last year’s Shambhala Music Festival. There is currently a wildfire burning approximately 15 kilometres from where the 20th annual event is currently underway. Photo: Will Johnson

Shambhala Music Festival director Jimmy Bundschuh feels confident his staff could quickly and efficiently evacuate their property if it becomes necessary — the way he sees it, they’ve practiced a one-day mass exit 19 times before.

“It’s no different than a regular exit, which we do every year. We’re extremely good at it and extremely prepared,” Bundschuh told the Star on Thursday morning.

The 20th annual festival, which hosts upwards of 15,000 people on the Salmo River Ranch every year, was already well underway when government officials, wildfire professionals and Shambhala staff gathered for a meeting on Thursday morning.

And though a wildfire was burning approximately fifteen kilometres away according to the Southeast Fire Centre, Bundschuh was feeling optimistic.

“I’d say we’re better off than a regular community because we have so many resources here. We have 2,500 workers on site, we have firefighters — we’re really prepared.”

Bundschuh’s comments came following a Wednesday evening evacuation alert released by the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) for the area of McCormick Creek / Pend D’Oreille, about 20 kilometres southwest of Salmo.

But according to the Southeast Fire Centre’s information officer Karlie Shaughnessy, it’s extremely unlikely a wildfire could travel 15 kilometres over the course of the weekend — though of course she wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility.

“It would take significant fire behaviour for it to travel 15 kilometres over rugged terrain, over creeks and rivers and natural fire breaks, but anything is possible in these kinds of conditions.”

She’s been fielding many concerned calls, including from people in Salmo, and she emphasized that the only credible sources for fire information are the RDCK and the Southeast Fire Centre.

“We’ve got people in Salmo that think they have to leave, and there’s this heightened sensitivity about fires. This may be a historic moment for all of BC this summer, but people need to get their information from credible sources and not from social media groups or people who don’t know the exact facts.”

As of Thursday morning the fire was 75 hectares, and there were 25 wildfire personnel on the ground who will ultimately be supported by air tanker skimmers, two helicopters and another 20-person crew.