An edge of the Nanaimo Lakes wildfire area, photographed earlier this week. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Nanaimo Lakes wildfire holding, ‘good progress’ reported

Fire still listed at 179 hectares as crews await forecasted cold front

UPDATE: While the wildfire at the Nanaimo Lakes area is still active, it is unlikely to spread, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service.

The fire, located 13 kilometres southwest of Nanaimo and first reported Aug. 5, is “being held,” which the wildfire service defines as a situation where “sufficient suppression action has been taken that the fire is not likely to spread beyond existing or predetermined boundaries under the prevailing and forecasted conditions.”

According to Dorothy Jakobsen, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre, the fire remains at 182 hectares in size.

“What the crews will do now is they’ll walk the ground and they’ll look for hot spots and they’ll dig down and they’ll put out each hot spot and they’ll be looking for danger trees, trees that are burned that need to be cut down, and it’s long, laborious, hard work for the crews,” said Jakobsen.

According to Jakobsen, Nanaimo Lakes fire was been determined to be human-caused and remains under investigation, which will take a few months to unfold.

Rain over the weekend didn’t extinguish the fire, Jakobsen said.

“Rain always helps, but at this time of the year it doesn’t do a lot,” said Jakobsen. “It kind of dampens the surface, but doesn’t go very deep, so it’s still very dry. As you know we’re in a drought/high drought rating, so it’s still very dry out there and there’s still fire danger hazards.”

The wildfire service still has 34 firefighters, two helicopters and six pieces of heavy equipment dedicated to the fire.

Nanaimo continues to be affected by smoky skies due to the wildfire and a special air quality statement remains in effect for the area, according to a bulletin from Environment Canada.

People with pre-existing health conditions, the elderly, infants, children and sensitive individuals are more susceptible to the smoke and are more likely to see health effects from exposure, said Environment Canada. People who have difficulty breathing are advised to remain inside, it said.

SUNDAY MORNING: A small spot fire in Nanaimo was one of more than 30 sparked by lightning on Vancouver Island yesterday.

A fire noted Saturday by B.C. Wildfire Service at Blackjack Creek west of Nanaimo was holding as of Sunday morning, said Dorothy Jakobsen, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre.

“It was a small spot fire, we responded, they caught it in time, I believe,” she said.

The area isn’t easily accessible for most vehicles, but “we are used to dealing with remote fires,” Jakobsen said. “That’s what we do, for the most part, actually … It was caught by the initial attack crew very quickly.”

Meanwhile, the Nanaimo Lakes fire reached 50 per cent containment, which represented “good progress,” she said, helped by the rain.

She said 34 fires started Saturday in the region, 31 of them due to lightning and three suspected to be person-caused. She said B.C. Wildfire Service receives information about fires from tips from the public and from pilots, as well as from dedicated patrols.

“When we know there’s a lightning storm in the offing, we organize ourselves and we get up in the air and we try and get eyes on the land as soon as possible,” Jakobsen said.

With so many fires all at once, she said the Coastal Fire Centre is prioritizing and looking at where to deploy resources.

“We’re doing what we can,” she said. “Quite often a lot of these are just a tree is on fire from lightning, the crew goes out and they get it and it’s over.”

SATURDAY AFTERNOON: Households near the Nanaimo Lakes fire are no longer on evacuation alert.

The Regional District of Nanaimo announced Saturday afternoon that it is rescinding an evacuation order for 77 addresses, and downgrading an evacuation order to an evacuation alert for another area closer to the Nanaimo Lakes wildfire.

B.C. Wildfire Service reports that the fire is now at 182 hectares with 40 per cent containment.

“The crews have made really good progress on it,” said Donna MacPherson, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre. “The fires didn’t react badly to the winds that went through here yesterday, which we were really grateful for.”

She said a lightning storm set off about 13 new fires on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, but that shouldn’t impact firefighting efforts at Nanaimo Lakes.

“We always put the most resources where [the fire] is adjacent to homes and communities, so of course that fire is well-resourced…” MacPherson said. “We’re mobilizing resources to the north where we can, but most of those fires are in a more remote location.”

According to the B.C. Wilfire Service website, crews at the Nanaimo Lakes wildfire have containment on the southeast side of the fire facing homes.

“Nanaimo River Road will remain closed 300 metres on each side of the fire and pilot cars will be used to escort traffic,” the site notes.

FRIDAY AFTERNOON: With wildfires burning in multiple locations on the Island, decisions need to be made every day about how to best deploy resources.

The Nanaimo Lakes wildfire is the largest blaze on Vancouver Island, but with others near Port Alberni, Crofton and Sooke and more than a dozen others in the Coastal Fire Centre’s mainland boundaries, there’s a balancing act.

Natasha Broznitsky, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre, said B.C. Wildfire Service firefighters are a “provincial resource,” but British Columbia’s six fire centres are entrusted with ensuring they maintain fire protection levels in their regions, with an eye to other parts of the province. Firefighters can sometimes be sent elsewhere, but “as a general rule, Coastal Fire Centre crews would certainly spend the majority of their time on the coast in a busier year, or a busier time period,” she said.

“But within the Coastal Fire Centre, you can certainly see some movement of crews … Vancouver Island crews can be kind of moving around on the Island.”

As for the Nanaimo Lakes wildfire, B.C. Wildfire Service provided an update on Friday afternoon, reporting that the fire size remains at 179 hectares with 25 per cent containment.

“This containment is on the southeast side, on the side facing the homes on Nanaimo Lake Road,” notes the B.C. Wildfire Service website.

The wildfire service reports “good progress,” adding that the incident commander was watching for the arrival of a cold front on Friday evening to help crews improve containment.

THURSDAY NIGHT: More than 2,500 firefighters are struggling against 465 wildfires burning in every part of B.C.

Twenty new fires sparked overnight, with four of those suspected to be caused by people, according to a daily update on Thursday from the B.C. Wildfire Service.

To read a provincial overview article, click here.

THURSDAY NIGHT: With two fires currently burning in the Alberni Valley, there are calls to bring the Martin Mars water bombers into action.

But Port Alberni is unlikely to see the vintage aircraft in the sky anytime soon.

Wayne Coulson, CEO of Coulson Flying Tankers, confirmed that the Mars “isn’t anywhere ready” for firefighting action.

Read the full story here.



editor@nanaimobulletin.com

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