Mike Carter, Chetwynd Echo Reporter
CHETWYND – Smoke filled the air like thick coastal fog near the Stone Creek Sub on Saturday evening, as a wildfire which consumed 34 hectares of land burned not far from the road along a half-kilometer long stretch of Highway 97 South, roughly 16 kilometers west of Chetwynd.
The blaze began around 2 pm. The cause is still under investigation, according to Northern Fire Attack Crew (NFAC) supervisor Darren Van Horn.
Residents can expect to see smoke over the next few days as the now controlled burning brush smolders.
NFAC responded with a quick five-person attack and were able to subdue the blaze before it got out of control.
“It was a fairly simple spring grass fire,” Van Horn said. “It’s under investigation. It went up the side of the mountain and we protected the structures to the east of the fire. [They] were never really threatened, the fire was mainly above [them] and to the west, but we had our guys hang out around the buildings and we did a little bit of a burning off just to burn the [fuel] up, let it go up the hill and keep it away from the buildings.”
Nearby residents watched with concern as fire approached their homes, but was then directed away by the crews on site.
Some reported going through a list of valuables in their heads they would need to bring should they need to evacuate.
Chetwynd Echo Publisher/Editor, Naomi Larsen who lives in the Stone Creek Sub was away for the weekend, but exchanged text messages with her husband and children as the couple decided what they would bring.
“It was surreal,” Larsen said. “Here I was sending a list of things to remember to take if we had to evacuate – photo albums, computer hard drive, important papers, clothing, pets, etcetera. It was really a helpless feeling.”
Larsen’s five-year-old daughter Aayla had decided she would bring her favourite dress up dress, her Leapster and some colouring books.
On Monday evening Aayla sat down in the living room with markers in hand – on her own accord – and made a thank you card for the firefighters for “saving our home and our neighbour’s homes.”
The crews used a technique called “back burning”, sometimes also referred to as controlled, prescribed or hazard reduction burning or swailing, while fighting the fire. This is done by starting a burn near the structures they want to protect that proceeds in the direction of the initial blaze, using up the “fuels” that could potentially lead the fire to the structures.
“We usually come up with a quick plan on where the fire is going to go, these are areas that we want to protect so how we are going to do that – we find a control line to go from, maybe we make our own. Using [water] we can wet down a perimeter and then burn from that,” Van Horn explained.
“There were some trails and such there that we were able to use as a barrier to the fire and [we] burnt from those, let our fire burn back into the main fire. We use the burning technique a lot in the springtime; it works quite well to suppress the fire. We’re actually adding extra fire but in the end it works out in our favour most times.” Van Horn went on to explain that fires like these are actually more beneficial than detrimental to the area, as was the case was with this particular event.
“They’re beneficial as they are going to remove old material – the growth from last year burns up. This time of the year the ground is still frozen underneath so the fire just runs along the top, burns off all that material so later on in the summer when everything is dry it helps with that situation,” he said.
“Once it ever warms up around here, you’ll notice that the hillside there will turn green really fast.”
While the Chetwynd NFAC is not fully operational for the season yet, this fire posed no problem for the crew that was available.
Over the next few weeks, Van Horn expects the team will be running with a full complement of personnel.
“Quite often we don’t have all of our crews up and running yet, so they are just starting to come online now,” Van Horn stated. “We’re about probably 50 – 80 per cent capacity right now throughout the province. Here we have one crew out of three, so in the next two weeks everybody comes online.”