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Wilderness Adventures - Aug., Week 3/2010

This is about a remote area in west central British Columbia, Canada called the West Chilcotin. Surrounded by numerous glacial mountain ranges, alpine lakes teeming with wild Rainbow Trout, and full of wildlife. Living here goes from no running water or electricity to spacious log homes with all the conveniences and without the smog!
If you would like to see pictures of wildlife, mountains, lakes, exciting snowmobiling, events and more, and read some great contributed stories and ongoing blogs, just go into Archives on the lower left side of this page.

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31/08/2010 3:22 PM

Forest Fire Wrap-up

I realize it's been a while since I wrote a blog, folks and I apologize to those of you that are accustomed to coming here for updated information on forest fire conditions in the area. But as I mentioned in my last posting, I would be away for a week, and frankly, I was so teed off when I got back I decided I had better cool down before doing a rant on the blog and about that dip up at the Cariboo Fire Center.
I had appointments for most of the week of the 16th in Williams Lake and was still there when evacuees began pouring in from Anahim Lake. Midweek a large wind event was expected to sweep through the Chilcotin and the Cariboo so everyone was on pins and needles wondering what that was going to do to all the forest fires raging in the Cariboo Fire district. They expected the fires at Alexis Creek to blow up and so closed Highway 20 there, but they had already closed Highway 20 at Heckman pass on Sunday because of the fire there that was supposed to have been called 'out' after that rain we had. It crossed the highway which forced the closure. Maybe the CFC was concerned about people in Anahim Lake being trapped in Anahim with no way out if the Tweedsmuir fire really took off but none of it made any sense, including evacuating Anahim Lake residents into Williams Lake with a fire still 20 kilometers away (16m)
I felt so sorry for the crowds of Anahim Lake folks milling around up at the evacuation center at the school in Williams Lake. Stuffed in like cattle, there was no room left for people that were evacuated from Meldrum again. If the CFC was concerned about Highway 20 being blocked because of fires at Alexis Creek and Heckman, why not plan to evacuate to Tatla Lake school??? It's huge, only an hour away, and there were no fires endangering Tatla Lake at any time. In fact, there were none anywhere near Nimpo or Charlotte Lake either but all three communities were under an evacuation alert. Why??? It made absolutely no sense. None of it. I think that there have been so many screw ups this summer that all of a sudden someone hit the panic button without thinking things through or looking at the big picture.
In the first place, Williams Lake and outlying areas were in a lot more danger from the Meldrum Complex of fires and only 12 km away with the wind expected to blow the fires right toward Williams Lake. So why wasn't that city under evacuation? Why put Anahim Lake under evacuation when the fire was so much farther away? No idea other than one cop said that because of all the fires and the Cariboo Fire Center being short on resources and a shortage of cops, CFC figured it would be easier to just close the highway, evacuate, and not worry about the area.
However, many people did not leave Anahim Lake when the evacuation order went out. So that meant that extra police had to be brought in to protect homes that were empty. That was a nice way to spend taxpayer money. Putting up all the extra cops in local accommodation, feeding them, and a few even got to leave in a very, very fancy RCMP jet on floats. Nice. What was the point of the whole exercise?
Finally, these poor people from our area got to come home on Thursday and they must have been just shaking their heads. I got caught in town on the wrong side of the road block, but came out on Thursday only one day later than I wanted to but I beat the pack with a permit. Even without that though there's a myriad of ways to get back home had I wanted to get here sooner, but since Nimpo Lake was in zero danger, and my husband was already here, there was no point.
Many operators up and down Highway 20 and in Bella Coola are infuriated at the evacuations, alerts, and road closures. It made lots of sense to close the highway at Heckman when the fire crossed the highway but it apparently was closed much longer than it needed to be. However, one guy on road crew said that Heckman was kept closed because the CRD and Cariboo Fire Center believed that people would bitch less about the Alexis Creek closure if the Bella Coola Hill was also closed. But it sure hurt a lot of tourism operators, especially in view of the fact that once you got out here, our air quality was very good with the exception of just a couple of days. I choked on smoke the whole five days I was in Williams Lake. Compared to the rest of the province, Nimpo was a great place to be because all the smoke blew away from us. In fact, for a few days, smoke from BC fires was even affecting Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and parts of Ontario with many cities issuing air quality alerts.
Finally, Mother Nature stepped in as she is wont to do on occasion and took care of a lot of the problem. Really cool temperatures and some rain came with that weather front that never did bring the expected 'wind event' putting a real damper on all the forest fires. It gave firefighters and air support an opportunity to get ahead of the fires and many are in mop up stage now. It's just an absolute shame that the fires were permitted to get out of hand the way that they did. And I will reiterate something here. I have nothing but the fullest admiration for the firefighters on the ground and in the air and those people supporting them because I know they all worked their hearts out on those fires. I have to point that out because only one couple seems to disagree with my opinion regarding the fires and think that I blame firefighters for that. I absolutely do not, but since their business relies on working for the Cariboo Fire Center, I understand wholeheartedly why they would want to protect their job by championing the manager of the Fire Center. However, you would be hard put to find anyone else that thinks that yon estimable manager of the CFC did a good job of managing the resources and fires this year. Too many people in the know and first hand are stating that this was one big cluster muck in the Cariboo Fire Region this year. Thank heavens those fighting the fires are hard working and competent or the whole Cariboo would have burned up. A pretty good job was done to that end as it was. Check out the figures!
Meldrum Complex: 47,293 hectares or 116,863 acres. Almost a hundred and seventeen thousand acres! Can you believe that?

Alexis Creek area fires: 32,770 hectares or 81,000 acres although it may be more as these are outdated numbers.

Pelican Complex: 45,512 hectares or over 112,000 acres.

Heckman Pass Fire: 3,086 hectares or 7,625 acres.

Corkscrew Basin Fire: 6,034 hectares or 14,910 acres.

Compare these numbers to those below from August 5th. Since most of the fires have not grown in a week and are in mop up stage, most of these differences in fire size occurred in just two short weeks.

Pelican Lake complex north of Nazko, 37,065 acres. Four largest fires at Alexis Creek combined, 57,000 acres. Meldrum Creek fires combined size, 45,000 acres. Dog Creek Fire over 15,400 acres.
Scary thought.
The problem is that no matter how desperately hard firefighters work to contain fires, once they get to a certain size, when weather and temperature is against them, there's no slowing them down. That needed to be done right when the fires were first spotted and adequate resources put on them right away. As I reported before, that was not done on some of the fires. Man, on television when you saw a news item on a spot fire anywhere else in the province, that regional fire center threw everything but the kitchen sink at it fast and hard so they didn't end up with the problems our region had. The only other exceptional fire activity that I knew of was the Binta Lake fire in the Prince George District and those poor sods had everything against them including really high winds at a critical point in that fire.
So how did so many fires end up getting as large as they were in the Cariboo Fire region when they were interface fires? (Structures such as residences, farms, ranches, etc.) And even though the structures may have been saved, there is serious concern among many ranchers for their pasture land. They no longer have the pasture or hay to feed the numbers of cattle that they have. Although it is estimated that hundreds of cattle have been lost in the Meldrum Creek fires but no one will know until after fall roundup. There still is no feed for those cattle left. Others have stated their concern to me of all the good forest burned up in those fires. Huge fir stands wiped out at a time when we have precious few green standing trees left after the mountain pine beetle went through.
I guess that the only way we'll know why the Cariboo Region ended up with such huge out of control interface fires is if the whole thing is investigated, and I'm thinking with enough prompting from a furious public, that will happen. Why didn't we have the resources we needed right at the start when we were going into an extremely dry spring and summer. Why were BC firefighters sent to other provinces under those kinds of conditions? Why have numerous eye witnesses, including people that work in Fire Protection, tell me that their calls about spot fires were ignored and that repeated calls about those fires growing rapidly were also ignored. And in fact that one person was told to stop reporting the worsening status of smokes from fires over the radio. Putting a muzzle on people that work for you so that the public can't find out what's going on is outrageous. And just reduces public respect for the Cariboo Fire Center. Why did so many people refuse to leave Anahim Lake when it went under evacuation orders? Lack of trust. Cry wolf too many times and people will no longer listen, and they definitely won't listen when they know that they are deliberately being kept in the dark. Don't expect them follow like sheep after an entity they have no reason to trust.
Should there be a public inquiry into the goings on at the Cariboo Fire Center for this summer fire season? I absolutely believe there should be. I guess we'll see what happens.
Onto happier stuff!
Our weather has been cool during the day with a lot of cloud mixed with sun, and freezing or close to it several nights in a row. We've had several rain showers which is a good thing since the campfire bans are now lifted.
There was a severe thunderstorm warning for the Chilcotin this afternoon threatening hail, rain, high winds to 50mph and intense lightning. Nothing but wind has arrived so far though and that has settled right down now so we seem to be in the clear.
I'm hoping we get a warm up and some sunshine soon. I've got plants loaded with tomatoes and cucumbers in two greenhouses right now, but I need the sunshine for them to turn color. It would be nice for fishing too. It's a little cool on the water in the evenings now but the fishing is picking up and we need to get some trout into the freezer and smoker.
Andy took many of the pictures up on the right while I was in Williams Lake, including the amazing sun picture. He said that he looked outside and it went from a bright afternoon to almost nightfall immediately. The ash cloud from the Heckman fire had engulfed the sun and turned it red and darkened the sky in moments. The picture above it is one I took on the 14th. I was driving toward Anahim Lake when this pillar of smoke started climbing into the sky faster than anything I've ever seen before. I pulled over on the highway because it just kept growing higher and higher and I wanted pictures. I have no idea which fire that was. There were four prominent smokes on the horizon that day. I knew one had to be the Corkscrew Basin fire and the other near Heckman Pass, but I have no idea where the other two fires were. I just know they all blew up at the same time in the heat that day just after lunch.
The blog posting from the second week in August can be found at August Week Two . Have a great Labour Day Weekend folks!

The purpose of this web site is to draw attention to a remote area of west central British Columbia. It is a beautiful area that relies heavily on tourism. The search engines don't know much about the West Chilcotin, Anahim Lake, Nimpo Lake or any of the other small communities in the region and I hope to change that! Even as large as this site will eventually be, there just isn't enough room or time in the day to fully describe this incredible country but I am going to try scraping away at the tip of the iceberg, so join me!

Follow the links, and see what the West Chilcotin is really like!
Fire plume rises into the sky.
Smoke turns the sky dark and the sun red.
A long plume of white boiling smoke from a forest fire.
Smoke plumes across the Chilko River.
Black snags in front of the Rainbow Range.
Burned forest behind the Tweedsmuir Park sign.
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