Incident commander Glen Burgess addresses a public meeting at the former A.I. Collinson school Wednesday evening on the Duhamel-Sitkum creek fire burning on the North Shore of Kootenay Lake.

Duhamel/Sitkum fire 20% contained

A 380-hectare fire burning on the North Shore of Kootenay Lake is about one-fifth contained, a public meeting heard Wednesday night.

A 380-hectare fire burning on the North Shore of Kootenay Lake is about one-fifth contained, a public meeting heard Wednesday night.

Incident commander Glen Burgess, whose team took over Tuesday morning, told about 200 people gathered at école des Sentiers-alpins (the former A.I. Collinson school) that the fire is an “extremely high priority” for the BC Wildfire Service.

“We are getting the resources we need to put our plan in place and contain the fire,” he said, noting that about 90 firefighters are at work on the blaze, along with 15 support staff, three helicopters, and nine pieces of heavy equipment. “We are making excellent progress.”

Burgess said firefighters have concentrated on the fire’s southern flank directly above homes as well as the east flank up to Sitkum Creek, and are starting to move ground crews to the west into Duhamel Creek. Only when they feel secure about those areas will they worry about the other side of the fire.

“Right now it’s about the homes,” he said. “We won’t expend energy on the backside.”

Burgess explained that his team, one of six in the province, was called into remove the burden off local staff because it had grown beyond their capacity to handle.

About 350 homes remain on evacuation alert, but there is no immediate threat to residents. In the event of an evacuation, residents would be asked to report to either the Nelson and District Community Complex or the Balfour hall, the meeting heard.

Burgess said he would likely recommend lifting the evacuation alert once the fire’s east and west flanks are partly contained, but couldn’t guess when that might happen. With the progress they have been making, he expected to have “a pretty good level of containment” in 10 days or so. However, it will require 25 to 30 mm of rain to douse the flames. The forecast does not call for showers before Saturday.

When the floor was opened to questions, one resident suggested that crews were not swift enough in tackling the fire from the air after it flared up Saturday, but fire information officer Jordan Turner called the fire a “sleeping giant” and insisted air tankers moved in as soon as it made sense to do so.

In response to another question, Burgess said they are contemplating dropping fire retardant using a helicopter rather than a plane, but recognize it is a “sensitive issue” due to domestic watersheds in the area.

Others asked why certain areas, particularly Lower Six Mile Road, have not been included in the evacuation alert, but an answer wasn’t immediately available. Regional fire chief Terry Swan said the potential evacuation area is determined based on advice from the Southeast Fire Centre.

A group of firefighters received a round of applause when they entered the room, and there were further cheers for search and rescue and other emergency groups.

Below: Smoke from the Duhamel/Sitkum fire is seen from the former A.I. Collinson school Wednesday.

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