The fierce forest fire currently descending towards Highway 3A in Six Mile continues to spread, and onlookers are concerned that it may reach their homes by noon today. Though an evacuation alert has been circulated by the Regional District of Central Kootenay, residents are still hoping the hellish conflagration could pass them by with the help of fire crews.
“The first load of retardant got dumped a few minutes ago,” said resident Bob Tremblay, who has been watching from his backyard as the fire nears his property along with his wife Joyce. He is currently running multiple sprinklers in his yard and roof in preparation.
“The water bomber’s done one run. Now they’re heading back to Castlegar. We’re hoping they’ll come back,” said Tremblay. “We’re pretty exhausted. We didn’t sleep, obviously.”
Another resident was hurrying around his property on an ATV and didn’t have time to comment, but was clearly panicked by the approaching catastrophe.
Tremblay believes the morning wind may be driving the flames over the ridge towards Duhamel, where the fire is visibly more intense.
As of this morning, the fire was reported to have reached 150 hectares.
Residents were gathered along the road taking pictures and some had even camped out to observe the fire’s progress when the Star attended at 2 and 9 a.m on July 5.
Trisha Meeker brought her family along to take pictures in the middle of the night. She said the flames occasionally died down but then would flare back up unexpectedly.
“I saw it start, about 1 or 2 p.m. in the afternoon, I just saw a poof on top of the mountain and got out and watched it for 10 minutes. Then I saw a plane fly up there, so I knew I didn’t have to call it in, but then smoke started billowing up but then it started really come down. I’ve lived here a long time and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Meeker’s grandson, six-year-old Oz, seconded his grandmother’s sentiment. He expressed excitement at being able to stay up long past his bedtime and said he was worried for the residents in the fire-silhouetted houses nearby.
His grandmother reminded him the fire crews were on the job.
In harsh contrast to the intense orange conflagration seen last night, at 9:15 a.m. the flames weren’t visible through white plumes of ascending smoke.
Strong winds continue to roar through the Kootenays, however, and during the Star‘s attendance the erupting smoke advanced through several new rows of trees while a helicopter thumped overhead.
Jordan Turner at the wildfire centre in Castlegar reported at 8:30 a.m. this morning that the fire at Duhamel and Sitkum Creeks has reached approximately 150 hectares in size.
He said there are 25 firefighters at the fire with more to come during the day. “Helicopters and air tankers will be working the fire throughout the day,” he said.
The speed with which the fire progressed down the mountain during the night is typical of “aggressive fire behaviour across the province,” said Turner.
Local minister Jeff Donnelly posted pictures of the clouds rising above his home.
“The air smells of wood fire. Those are not rain clouds, it’s forest fire smoke, and there’s ash raining down around me.”
Resident Craig Mullin said he was packing his bags.
“Feeling vulnerable with this fire looming beside our home. Praying the wind dies down. Going to pack up valuables just in case of evac,” he posted.
At 11 a.m. Ramona Faust, director of Electoral District E, posted the following on the Blewett Bulletin Board on Facebook:
“The RDCK has opened it’s Emergency Operations Centre. This takes staff and management focus as the the centre is staffed 24/7. For those folks in Area F , Director Newel’s home is in the direct area of the Duhamel fire. I hope you will join me in wishing for the best for his neighbours and the 350 homes on evacuation alert,” she wrote.
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