Growing forest fire, dense smoke force more evacuations

Growing forest fire, dense smoke force more evacuations

5 June 2009

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Canada — Two more small communities were ordered evacuated Friday and another three were put on evacuation alert after a forest fire raging west of Lillooet nearly quadrupled in size.

The Tyaughton Lake fire covered an estimated 2,000 hectares, up from 550 hectares Monday, and a weather inversion trapped a layer of choking smoke over the region.

The communities of Marshall Lake and Liza Lake were evacuated Friday. Gold Bridge, Bralorne and Gun Lake were put on evacuation alert.

On Wednesday, Tyaughton Lake was ordered evacuated, and residents west of Pearson Pond were ordered to leave on Monday.

“The last couple of days, we’ve been dealing with inversion. Because of the hot temperatures and stable air … warm air traps cooler air below it,” fire information officer Elise Riedlinger said Friday.

“Because of that, all the smoke is getting trapped. There are very smoky conditions.”

Riedlinger said only 15 per cent of the fire was contained. The heavy smoke was preventing crews from using air tankers, and limiting the use of helicopters.

The fire closed a 56-km stretch of Highway 40 between Gold Bridge and Mission Dam early Friday afternoon. The highway later reopened with one-way traffic in alternating directions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The blaze also contributed to an air-quality advisory across Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, beginning Wednesday. It was lifted Friday afternoon.

“There was a lot of smoke being generated from that fire,” said Ken Reid, Metro Vancouver air quality planner. “It seems like a long way away, but with the wind coming from north to south, it did bring it down here.”

Reid said winds bringing cleaner air from the coast and lower temperatures were improving the air quality.

In northern B.C., about 40 people were ordered to evacuate the area near Smith River and Liard River along the Alaska Highway on Thursday as the result of another fire. That blaze is roughly 50 kilometres south of the B.C.-Yukon border, and was estimated at 16,500 hectares, an area 40 per cent larger than the City of Vancouver.

Six homes in Coal River, a highway work camp and a summer camp at a first nations reserve were temporarily evacuated, said Randy McLean, city manager for the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. Residents were sent to a recreation centre in Watson Lake, Yukon.

“The night before, the fire had moved 20 kilometres and the models were showing there was going to be a 20-km front crossing the Alaska Highway,” McLean said.

“That would be a pretty disastrous situation if you were in the middle of it, because there is no place to go. There is only one road — you’re not going anywhere to get away.”

People were allowed to return home on Friday, but told to remain on alert in case the fire worsened.

The Alaska Highway also reopened to traffic, one way at a time with a pilot car escorting vehicles through smoky areas.

“It’s the only road going to the Yukon, so there is a fair amount of traffic,” McLean said.

The fire was still spreading, said fire information officer Jillian Chimko.

“It’s really dry and sunny,” she said. “Until we get a change in weather, there are limitations to how you can fight a fire of this size. It would be unsafe to get into areas where it is spreading right now, so we have to wait for Mother Nature to bring it down a notch before we can get in there.”

Chimko said firefighters were working to keep the fire off the highway and away from homes. The cause of the fire was being investigated.

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