Flames rise from a steep hillside just outside of Zeballos, a village on the west coast of the Island.

East Zeballos placed under evacuation alert as “out of control” wildfire approaches homes

BC Wildfire Service says rolling debris on steep terrain poses danger to firefighters

The eastern part of the village of Zeballos was placed under an evacuation alert Thursday, as news emerged that a nearby wildfire was out of control and had grown by several hectares.

Zeballos declared a local state of emergency and the eastern part of the village was placed on an evacuation alert Thursday, as news emerged that a nearby wildfire was out of control and had grown by several hectares.

A statement issued by the village on Thursday urged residents and visitors “to be prepared to evacuate in less than 30 minutes if ordered to do so by emergency officials.”

The lightning-caused wildfire had moved closer to homes in Zeballos by early Thursday, and video from the scene showed smoke billowing up behind houses in the community. Area residents expressed concern that not enough resources were being deployed to fight the fire.

“I’d like to see a little more priority there,” said Cory Hanson, a councillor with Ehattesaht First Nation, a community of about 100-150 people located beside Zeballos, population 107. “Right now the priority is needed in the village.”

A river separates the Ehattesaht reserve from the village of Zeballos, which is closer to the fire. But Hanson said he’s concerned the fire could soon spread, and that helicopters had so far dumped just “a few buckets of water once a day” on the fire. Structures near the fire had also been hosed down.

“We’re really hoping that it won’t actually end up jumping the river,” said Hanson. “As soon as it jumps the river, we’re kind of in trouble ourselves.”

Natasha Broznitsky, an information officer for the Coastal Wildfire Centre, said the fire was considered “out of control” on Thursday morning. It measured 10 hectares, compared to seven on Wednesday, with zero per cent containment. The BC Wildfire Service had two officers on-site, along with one helicopter, she said, adding that resources deployed could change during the day.

She said the terrain posed a major safety hazard for firefighters.

“One of the big challenges of this fire is that it’s burning in extremely steep terrain. There’s rolling debris,” she said.

Asked about the concerns of residents, she said that people should pay close attention to local governments, which are responsible for issuing evacuation orders or alerts. She said that life, property and infrastructure, were the priorities of the BC Wildfire Service.

Mike Atchison, the Zeballos emergency program coordinator, said on Wednesday morning that a fire on a steep hillside had grown significantly, crossing a bluff towards the village, but he urged calm.

“Lots of people are very excited and upset,” he said. “They figure it’s going to be a big raging fire.”

He asked for people to be “calm, cool and collected, and don’t get too excited.”

The wildfire caused trees and other debris to fall down the steep hillside, prompting the closure of a road leading into the village. And it was generating “a lot of heavy smoke” carried by a north wind across the village, said Atchison. The fire was on a rocky mountain face, and moving slowly for lack of ground fuel, he said.

Resources on the scene included a tanker provided by Lemare, a logging company. Zeballos has a couple of its own trucks and a fire hydrant system, said Atchison, and officials were prepared to pump water to the site if necessary.

He added that a chopper dropped eight buckets of water onto the wildfire on Tuesday, but he said it soon left to deal with another nearby fire.

Asked if he expected the Coastal Fire Centre to deploy more resources, he said: “We’re hoping. But they’ve got lots of other issues.”

READ MORE: More than 35 wildfires burning on North Island on Tuesday

In a media release on Tuesday, the Village of Zeballos said that regional neighbours had offered assistance if needed. The statement said that controlling the fire required “a trained crew to follow and extinguish the fire from the ground.”

The release continued: “Bucketing the fire with water or retardant without ground crews to fight the fire behind it would not put the fire out and could potentially exacerbate the situation by rolling the fire down the hill.”

It stated that the BC Wildfire Service would supply firefighting materials, but that its priority was to “keep the road open and the lights on.”

Several First Nations belonging to the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) were planning to hold their summer games this weekend in Zeballos, but the events were cancelled due to the wildfire, said Andy Callicum, vice-president of the NTC.

Meanwhile, another wildfire was out of control at Pinder Creek near the Zeballos Mainline, which is the only road to the remote coastal village and neighbouring reserve.

That fire was estimated at 80 hectares on Thursday morning, compared to 45 hectares on Wednesday, according to the Coastal Fire Centre.

The fire was 10 per cent contained, and 15 firefighters were on-site with one officer and a helicopter.

READ MORE: B.C. declares state of emergency as wildfires rage

Elsewhere in the region, another wildfire flared up at Espinose Creek, two kilometres from the Nuchatlaht First Nation’s Oclucje reserve. That lightning-caused fire measured 15 hectares by Wednesday morning, and was considered an “out of control” smoldering ground fire.

The Coastal Fire Centre couldn’t immediately provide an update on that fire on Thursday morning.

On Wednesday morning, the Coastal Fire Centre said the fire posed no danger to the reserve, adding that it was separated from the wildfire by a creek and a road.

Health issues and smoky conditions at Oclucje prompted Nuchatlaht First Nation to close its band office until further notice or until the fires are out, according to the community’s Facebook group. The First Nation has 162 members, including about 20 living on the reserve, according to its website.

New wildfires dotted the North Island on Wednesday morning, likely the delayed effect of lightning storms last Saturday.

A wildfire at Holberg Road, near Port Hardy, measured less than half a hectare but was “out of control” on Wednesday. Another new fire, this one at Kaipip Lake, in the central Island, was considered “out of control” and measured 2.1 hectares on Wednesday.

Two new wildfires appeared on the province’s online wildfire map on Thursday, both of them a fraction of a hectare.

Very little information was immediately available about some of the new wildfires as authorities struggled to keep up with the rapid developments. The number of wildfires burning on the North Island by Wednesday had reached 44, compared to 38 on Tuesday morning.

The Coastal Wildfire Centre said on Wednesday that weather forecasts were calling for no precipitation in the near future, and called on the general public to respect the open fire ban.

The BC Wildfire Service has also asked the public to report any fires, smoke columns or violations of wildfire regulations.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Discovery Harbour outbreak declared over

Island Health says no new cases developed at Campbell River long-term care home

Mike Aldersey, the Port McNeill base manager for West Coast Helicopters has been awarded the prestigious Agar/Stringer Award by the Helicopter Association of Canada. (Submitted photo)
Vancouver Island pilot receives coveted helicopter industry award

Port McNeill based Mike Aldersey is the recipient of the 2o2o Agar/Stringer Award given out to select few Canadians

Although the Campbell River Shoebox Project is not actually collecting shoeboxes this year, instead they are providing gift cards, coordinator Alison Skrepnick (pictured from last year) hopes Campbell River and North Island residents will still participate. this year’s Dec. 9 deadline is looking. Photo contributed
Time running out to help brighten the holiday for local vulnerable women

The Campbell River and North Island Shoebox Project deadline is Dec. 9

Franca Warkentin, President, and Annie Holmes, Trustee, of the Eagles Ladies Auxiliary present a cheque for $500 to Hamper Chairman Ken Niesen. Photo contributed
Final week to apply for Christmas Hampers is upon us

Applications are coming in slowly but the Dec. 5 deadline is Saturday.

Left to right: A screenshot of NTC nurse navigator Lesley Cerney, FNHA regional mental health manager Georjeana Paterson and Island Health’s medical health officer Dr. Charmaine Enns addressing Ehattesaht community members from Ehatis reserve in a Facebook live update. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Medical team sent to Ehatis reserve near Zeballos to guide community through COVID outbreak

17 cases, eight recoveries and no hospitalizations as Island Health praises First Nation’s response

12-year-old Ella Smiley captured some video of orcas on a sea lion hunt on Nov. 28 at Kitty Coleman Park, just north of Courtenay. Photo by Ella Smiley
VIDEO: Orcas hunt sea lion near Vancouver Island shoreline

Twelve-year-old Ella Smiley, of Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings, caught up with a… Continue reading

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Haley Callison. (Facebook photo)
Former B.C. pro hockey player frustrated with COVID-deniers after horrific bout with virus

Haleigh Callison hopes people will follow precautions and tone down the rhetoric

An air ambulance leaves West Coast General Hospital for a trauma centre at 9:50 p.m. on Wednesday, June 12 after a Port Alberni youth was injured in an accident on the Somass River. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO
COVID-19 outbreaks at pair of Vancouver Island Hospitals

Saanich Peninsula Hospital in Saanichton and West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni affected

A man stands in the window of an upper floor condo in Vancouver on March 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Change made to insurance for B.C. condo owners amid rising premiums

Council CEO Janet Sinclair says the change will mean less price volatility

The Walking Curriculum gets students outside and connecting with nature. (Amanda Peterson/Special to S.F. Examiner)
‘Walking Curriculum’ crafted by SFU professor surges in popularity

The outdoor curriculum encourages students to connect with the natural world

Dave Wallace coached the Parksville Royals for 23 years. (PQB News file photo)
B.C. baseball community mourns death of legendary Vancouver Island coach Dave Wallace

‘All who knew Dave and his passion for the game will miss him greatly’

Most Read