Wildfires continue to burn around Zeballos and its only access road, but the provincial wildfire authority says the fire directly outside the tiny logging town is “burning away from the village.”
“The fire isn’t coming any closer to town, which is great news,” said Lynn Wheeler, an information officer with the BC Wildfire Service, on Monday afternoon. By Tuesday morning, Wheeler said that new information wasn’t yet available about wildfires on the bluffs that tower over Zeballos.
Several homes remained under an evacuation order, which was issued on Saturday, and the rest of the town was on an evacuation alert, meaning that residents must be prepared to leave on a moment’s notice.
The fire was estimated at 90 hectares in size. That suggests that the fire hadn’t grown since Saturday, when the village issued an evacuation order for six homes.
However, it’s hard to get up-to-date estimates because of heavy smoke and scarce helicopter resources amid dozens of wildfires on the North Island.
“We can’t afford to send helicopters up just to estimate the size of fires, because they’re all busy fighting fires,” said Wheeler on Monday. “We just cannot spare the resources.”
There were an estimated 64 wildfires burning north of Campbell River on Tuesday, with the BC Wildfire Service working on 16 of them.
The Zeballos blaze remains an out-of-control wildfire, the only containment being on the edge of town.
A crew of 11 firefighters was on-site Tuesday, including six structural protection workers.
Helicopters were grounded due to heavy smoke on Monday, but the wildfire authority was hoping to have them bucketing again on Tuesday.
“As soon as the smoke clears, we’ll be up in the air bucketing again,” Wheeler said.
Firefighters were still trying to protect homes from rolling debris, including rocks and burning trees. Sprinkler systems were being used to protect structures, and firefighters were patrolling the community to deal with any burning debris that may roll into town.
The fire has been moving uphill, away from town, but rolling debris has caused the fire to grow perilously close to structures in Zeballos. Lightning triggered the wildfires over a week ago.
The village cited the “risk of falling debris” when it issued an evacuation order for six homes on Saturday. The BC Wildfire Service says the fire isn’t an immediate threat to the community, but that steep terrain has made the area hazardous for firefighters.
As for the fire at Pinder Creek, located just beside a logging road that serves as the town’s only access route, it had reached an estimated 200 hectares by Monday afternoon. That’s compared to 105 hectare just a few days previous.
The Pinder Creek fire, which is burning in heavy slash and timber, was only 10 per cent contained and 19 firefighters were expected to be working on the scene by Tuesday, with three choppers and two pieces of heavy machinery. Crews were working on controlling the fire’s northern edge, said Wheeler.
“They’re obviously trying to keep the road open and also [trying to] save the hydro poles, many of which are wood,” Wheeler said. Those hydro lines serve Zeballos and other nearby communities.
The fire is located roughly 15 km south of the Island Highway, on the Zeballos Mainline forest service road.
Crews have been working to create a firebreak by cutting down trees along the road, resulting in periodic road closures. The logging road is being closed for about 15 minutes at a time to allow the fallers to work on the road, a process that may continue until as late as August 27.
Another wildfire in the area, this one at Espinose Creek, near the Nuchatlaht First Nation’s Oclucje reserve, had reached an estimated 50 hectares, compared to 15 hectares last week.
Wheeler said that plans on Tuesday called for a crew of 15 firefighters at that site, along with one helicopter. She added that Nuchatlaht First Nation was in close contact with the BC Wildfire Service and the village of Zeballos.
Many people living at the Oclucje reserve had already left the area amid heavy smoke, according to Curtis Michael, a Zeballos area resident. Many residents of Ehattesaht First Nation’s reserve, located directly beside Zeballos, had also reportedly chosen to leave the area.
Meanwhile, wildfires have caused smoke to cover much of Vancouver Island this week, as ash rained down on Campbell River. Authorities issued a special air quality statement for East Vancouver Island, noting that people including the elderly, children, sensitive individuals and people with pre-existing conditions are especially at-risk in the smoky air.
In Campbell River on Tuesday morning, levels of PM2.5, a fine particulate matter that can damage the heart and lungs, reached a 24-hour average of nearly 140 micrograms per cubic metre, eclipsing the province’s air quality objective of 25 micrograms per cubic tonne.