The tanker truck that emptied its load of 35,000 litres of jet fuel was bound for a staging area to refuel helicopters Friday when it took a wrong turn onto a forest service road.
However, the spill “has not affected our response in any way,” Jordan Turner with the Southeast Fire Centre told the Star. “In fact, our response has increased. We have other areas for staging helicopters along the Slocan River as well as at Castlegar.”
The fire west of Winlaw was reported Wednesday afternoon. It grew 30 hectares overnight Saturday and now stands at 81 hectares, making it the largest in southeast BC. It does not threaten any homes or other structures.
Sixty-five firefighters and five management officers are at work on the blaze today using nine helicopters and an air tanker. Although firefighters are building guards, none of it has been contained.
On Friday and Saturday, the giant Martin Mars water bomber was brought in to help, but it suffered a non-emergency “mechanical issue” which is being looked at.
“One of the major reasons we brought it in was because of the remoteness of the fire,” Turner said. There is no road access to the fire, which is being fought primarily by air.
How quickly would the helicopters have consumed the fuel that spilled into Lemon Creek? With the present fleet, the answer is about seven and a half hours.
In use right now are two medium helicopters that use 410 litres of fuel an hour, two Kamov helicopters that use 900 litres, two 214 choppers that use 620 litres, two intermediate models that use 300 litres, and one light helicopter that consumes 110 litres per hour.
Turner also addressed concerns that using water from the Slocan River, which Lemon Creek flows into, might literally add fuel to the fire.
“We had some concerns about that yesterday from members of the public,” he said. “We have been making sure any water taken from the river is from a safe location. The Ministry of Environment tells us any residual fuel that could possibly be in areas we’re picking up water from would evaporate before it makes contact.”
Turner said the evacuation of hundreds of residents from the valley overnight Friday did not create any problems for firefighting efforts.
He added they are taking precautions to ensure all forest and service roads are clearly marked: “We’re being extra vigilant to make sure nothing like this happens again.”
A command team is expected to take over the fire within the next day or so, working out of a mobile unit.