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'This is a catastrophic event': White Rock Lake wildfire to grow in coming days

New mapping published late Wednesday night shows the fire has grown to just under 58,000 hectares.

Pushing back against criticism in the management of the White Rock Lake wildfire, the provincial government has invited media to the Vernon fire camp to show off the mammoth effort that is going into controlling the blaze.

“This is a catastrophic event. This isn’t just a wildfire,” said BCWS incident commander Mark Healey. “This is something that is, I think it is new for everybody.”

Healey said in nearly three decades of fighting fires, he has never seen the forest as dry as it is right now.

He suggested crews would be in for a difficult next week, with hot and dry weather through the weekend expected to be followed by winds.

“The fire behaviour that we are seeing out there, it is beyond extreme in my opinion,” he said, adding “this fire will grow, for sure. It will grow and we take it day by day.”

On the eastern flank of the fire, above Westside Road, Healey said the fire “is literally in people’s backyards and has been for a number of days.”

“We have structural protection units in there along with heavy equipment and wildland firefighters in conjunction to help prevent further from happening.”

He did not provide specifics on what areas along Westside Road are most threatened.

Healey also addressed criticism on social media that not enough is being done to contain the fire.

“When I hear that not enough is being done, that hits me in the heart. And it not only hits me, but it hits every firefighter on the ground,” he said.

“That is the hardest thing to hear, when we work extremely long hours over an extremely long summer. The crews on the ground, they are young millennials who live on social media, and they are not taking this well, the message that gets out there. I worry about them for that reason.”

Jamie Jeffreys, director of partnerships and strategic engagement for the BC Wildfire Service, also noted that the agency is “quite concerned” about some of the critical stories recently published.

Responding to claims from residents who stayed behind in evacuation zones who said fire resources were not present, deputy minister of Forests Rick Manwaring said crews are there but are constantly on the move.

As of right now, there are 195 wildland firefighters, 119 structural firefighters, 15 helicopters, 15 danger tree fallers, 73 pieces of heavy equipment and logistics/support staff assigned to the fire.