This helicopter was one of many pressed into action to help tackle Nelson-area fires.

This helicopter was one of many pressed into action to help tackle Nelson-area fires.

Crews continue to battle wildfires

Fire crews attack new lightning-caused fires near Nelson, Kaslo, and Salmo, while the Sitkum Creek fire is being mopped up.

The BC Wildfire Service has responded to dozens of new wildfires this week in the Southeast Fire Centre, all but five lightning-caused.

“We’ve had an incredible amount of lightning with 76 new fires starts since Monday and a total of 372 fires to date compared to 80 last year,” said fire information officer Fanny Bernard.

Ground crews are being supported by helicopters and air tankers as they work to contain and extinguish the fires, with 39 already out or contained. None of the new fires is threatening any structures or communities. However, smoke from some of them may be highly visible in nearby populated areas.

New fires in Nelson area

Firefighters are working with helicopter support to contain three new spot-sized fires (less than one hectare) that are burning in the area. Initial attack crews are working on a 0.5 hectare fire on the north side of Coffee Creek.

A second spot fire was detected on Mt. Loki opposite Kaslo early Thursday. Bernard said the fire is on the bottom third of the mountain, adding there is still access to the Bernard Creek forest service road, the route to the Mt. Loki trail-head.

A 0.04 hectare fire near Kokanee Creek is in patrol stage. Bernard said you may notice smoke coming from a 1.5 hectare fire near Sheep Creek in the Salmo area.

A towering plume of smoke errupted from the Sitkum Creek fire during a controlled burn off on Saturday, July 18. Tamara Hynd photo

The Sitkum Creek fire is resting at 777 hectares with 49 firefighters working on the blaze along with 10 contract workers, 10 support staff and one helicopter. The fire is 50 per cent contained.

Bernard said crews made good progress over the weekend with burn off operations with the use of a heli-torch. This week, firefighters completed small-scale burn-out operations using hand-held drip torches to light smaller pockets of unburned fuel.

These operations remove fuel from the fire’s path and reduce the chance of the wildfire breaching the control line. Most of the ground fuels were consumed and now crews are beginning the mop-up stage and are on the line applying water to the ground, Bernard said.

Smoke will continue to be visible from this fire, although the amount should be greatly diminished, she said. The fire is constantly being patrolled and crews will continue to put out hot spots.

The 22.8 hectare Akokli Creek fire on the East Shore is now in mop-up stage.

Fire hazard and weather

Bernard said even though some weather stations have received up to 36 mm of rain since Sunday, she cautions that the rain is localized, meaning some areas received zero precipitation.

“Even with that little rain, the low relative humidity, high temperatures, lots of sun and the constant wind has been drying,” said Bernard.

The chance of fire ignition is extremely high. As the summer progresses, the drying of larger fuels continues meaning fires burn deeper and with  higher intensity.

The forecast calls for possible thundershowers into the weekend.

The current fire danger rating is high in the Kootenay Lake area.

A repeating pattern of lightning storms accompanied by variable amounts of precipitation has ignited 308 fires in the Southeast Fire Centre so far this season. There have been a total of 372 fires since April 1, which have burned more than 2,012 hectares.

Although most of the fires that started this week were caused by lightning, five were started by humans.

“It’s really important that people adhere to the campfire and burning bans,” said Bernard, urging people to be careful in or around forests or grasslands, since human-caused fires divert resources needed for naturally-occurring fires.

To report a wildfire or open burning violation, call 1-800-663-5555 toll-free or *5555 on a cellphone.

For the latest information on current wildfire activity, burning restrictions, road closures and air quality advisories, go to bcwildfire.ca.

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