Wildfires break out across region after wild lightning storm
July 16, 2021 By John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice
A powerful lightning storm that moved through the region on July 8, coupled with historically dry forests, has sparked nearly two dozen small wildfires in the Arrow Lakes, Slocan Valley, and North Kootenay Lake regions.
As of press time, about 19 fires were burning in the Valley Voice readership area. While the majority were listed as `out of control,’ none were threatening homes or infrastructure.
NACFOR log yard fire
One of the most dangerous wildfires broke out at the NACFOR/Mercer Celgar log yard in Nakusp, when a lightning bolt struck a pile of logs in the converted gravel pit during the spectacular lightning storm, setting them on fire.
“It was a strange place for lightning to strike. It was in the bottom of a bowl, lower than the surrounding area,” said Hugh Watt, the manager for NACFOR. “But lightning does what it does.”
A quick response by the community fire department and the public put the fire down before it could spread too widely.
“The fire was large and there was significant risk that it could have become much larger had it not been attended so quickly by the firefighters and local contracted loggers,” said Nakusp Fire Chief Terry Warren. “Decks of logs were engulfed when crews arrived with risk of the fire spreading throughout the yard. The fire was fought all through the night.”
About 18 firefighters and many more volunteers joined the effort to fight the fire.
About a dozen logging trucks’ worth of wood was destroyed or made unusable by the fire, Watt said.
“The wood was destined for the Mercer pulp mill in Castlegar – they were their logs,” said Watt. “They can’t use burned logs because they stain the pulp.”
Watt said the log yard would be closed for about a week while crews cleaned up the mess and removed the damaged wood. He said there wouldn’t likely be any long-term impact to NACFOR’s operations because of the fire. No one was injured and no infrastructure at the log yard was damaged by the strike.
But that fire was just the beginning. In the space of a day or two, more than a dozen fires flared up in the region, many sparked by the lightning storm. In the hills above Nakusp, a small fire started at Kimbol Lake on Saturday. However, firefighting efforts had to be temporarily halted when someone flew a drone aerial vehicle into the airspace.
“This situation resulted in a helicopter being grounded,” the Southeast Fire Centre reported.
The presence of drones near an active wildfire can slow down, or completely shut down aerial firefighting efforts, due to safety concerns. The person flying the drone could face a $100,000 fine and a year in jail.
At press time Monday ,the Kimbol Lake fire was estimated to be 47 hectares and listed as `out of control.’
But local Fire Chief Terry Warren posted a positive note on the fire on Facebook.
“I just met with Wildfire officer who just flew Kimbol fire and 1/8it’s 3/8 looking not too bad,” he wrote. “ 1/8Helicopter 3/8 will be bucketing today and should be able to get ground crew on 1/8Monday 3/8.”
A half-dozen other fires also started along the shores of Arrow Lakes south of Nakusp, including at Octopus, Hutchinson, and Van Houten Creeks, though none were threatening homes or infrastructure on Monday.
Fires grow in the heat
Nakusp wasn’t the only area keeping firefighters busy after the storm. Near Passmore, a brush fire started Friday, and was put out by the community volunteer fire department. There’s no word what caused that fire. Small spot fires were also listed at the north end of Kootenay Lake, Lower Arrow Lakes, along the south shore of Trout Lake, the Little Slocan Valley, and the Galena Bay area.
On Monday, the heat wave continued, and the scattered spot fires began to grow. On Mount Ruppel in the highlands to the east of Appledale, a 6.7-hectare fire burning out of control on steep terrain in the morning became a 130-hectare burn by evening. A fire on Trozzo Creek, in the hills about four kilometres east of Winlaw also grew quickly in the mid-30s heat. What started as a 19-hectare fire in the morning became a 125-hectare burn by nightfall.
None of the fires were threatening homes or infrastructure. Several more fires were burning in the Castlegar and Nelson areas, as well.
The situation remains dangerously volatile as the Valley Voice goes to press.
If there’s any bright spot, it’s that West Kootenay residents are taking conditions seriously.
“Just wanted to say we are impressed that since the fire bans started, we have not been called out to any fires in our service area!” noted a Facebook post from the Crescent Valley Fire Department on the weekend. “Thank you to our community for not taking risks during this crazy heat wave and drought conditions.”
However, there’s no relief in sight for firefighters. The extended weather forecast Monday called for temperatures consistently in the 35 degree C range, with no chance of precipitation for the foreseeable future.