Sechelt fire grows to 80 hectares as terrain causes difficulty

Old Sechelt Mine Fire

Still burning after three days, the forest fire officially dubbed the Old Sechelt Mine Fire has grown in size to 80 hectares (198 acres) and is 40 per cent contained, the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) reported on its website late Saturday.

In an earlier update, SCRD emergency preparedness coordinator Bill Elsner said extremely strong winds and very low relative humidity forecast for Saturday evening is “providing unusual overnight burning conditions,” and cautioned that any new fires should be considered “dangerous and volatile.”

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The fire is located about two kilometres northwest of Sechelt and 1.8 kilometres above the west shore of Sechelt Inlet. It was burning Saturday in a north-northeasterly direction, parallel with Sechelt Inlet.

“The Wildfire Management Branch crews have had good success on the east flank of the fire, which is the side facing the seasonal residences,” Elsner said. “The fire has burned into an area with very thick brush and heavy old-growth forest.”

The public is being warned by the Sunshine Coast RCMP and BC Wildfire Service to stay out of the area to allow crews to work safely.

As of Saturday afternoon, no structures were threatened and no evacuations had taken place. However, evacuation alerts were delivered Friday to Carlson Point residents and most have chosen to leave the area. A total of 18 homes are under the evacuation alert, with RCMP and Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Unit 12 on standby to assist if needed.

Steep slopes and danger trees have made firefighting difficult, Coastal Fire Centre information officer Donna MacPherson said Saturday morning.

“When a fire moves through an area, it destabilizes the trees as it burns through the roots and branches and what not, so it makes the going a little slow,” MacPherson said. “They have to fell the trees that are dangerous to the crews before the crews can get in to work on it. So it’s going to be a slow pull for a little bit.”

Though crews were making “pretty good progress” on containing the fire, it could not be classified as contained as of 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, MacPherson said.

“There’s a road system around a large part of the fire and it hasn’t moved beyond that road system,” she said. “What the crews are doing is removing the fuel in between the road and the fire itself and what that does is it will lower the fire behaviour if the fire approaches the road. That’s when they’ll start to call containment, when they get that work complete.”

The Coastal Fire Centre has deployed three helicopters, two air tankers, 57 firefighters, two excavators, three officers and four tree fallers to fight the fire since it began on Thursday afternoon.

The fire is suspected to be human caused and remains under investigation.

In an update issued just before noon Saturday, Elsner said calm winds overnight had “helped somewhat” to slow the spread of the fire, which covered 35 hectares by Friday afternoon.

BC Emergency Health Services had a significant spike in smoke-related respiratory distress calls Friday and Sechelt Hospital is at capacity, he said.

The SCRD has set up a public information line to divert inquiries away from the Coastal Fire Centre. The line will be staffed for at least 24 hours and will provide callers with information on the Carlson Point evacuation alert and the fire situation in general, Elsner said in an update Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile, community members have been taking to social media to express their gratitude to the men and women battling the blaze, and MacPherson said comments directed to the BC Forest Fire Info Facebook page would be appreciated.

“If people want to log on and thank the crews, that would be awesome because I know they do look at it and their families look at it as well,” she said.

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