The two wildfires threatening Telegraph Creek have merged into a single 28,000-hectare blaze, but a shift in winds today may provide crews with a chance to secure the fire’s southern flank.
In recent days the Alkali Lake wildfire and South Stikine River wildfire to its east have expanded rapidly, creating their own weather systems pulling toward each other.
The wildfire centre anticipated the merger yesterday afternoon but maintained their priority to prevent further structural impacts within Telegraph Creek, following the loss of 27 structures Aug. 7.
“The firefighters are certainly doing their best,” said fire information officer Heather Rice. “They’re a stoic bunch. Every time structures are lost it affects them as well as the homeowners. But they’re making good progress in Telegraph Creek and securing it —so there’s a win there.”
With the shift in the wind today, a cold front will cool temperatures but is also expected to increase the fire’s volatility, Rice added.
“When the cold front approaches it could possibly create a significant column of smoke. We want to make people aware of that —it shouldn’t endanger people’s lives, but if it does happen, will make the fire more active and visible.”
If the new conditions allow, crews will begin burn operations to secure the southern flank of the fire.
Fire crews are using heavy equipment to keep Hwy 51 clear, but when compromised, crews and heavy equipment operators are being flown to the fires.
In a press teleconference yesterday Doug Donaldson, B.C. minister of forests and Stikine MLA for the Telegraph Creek area, said the Alkali Lake wildfire is a top concern for the province.
Compared to 2017, the fire season is presenting exceptional challenges for the province due to major fires of note active every Fire Zone, currently amounting to 462 wildfires with 22 evacuation alerts and 17 evacuation orders in place. The 2,500 people affected by the Telegraph Creek fires is the largest impact in B.C.
Donaldson said he’s tried to visit the area to survey the damage and meet with people on the ground but was turned back twice due to heavy smoke.
Meanwhile BC Hydro’s electrical infrastructure has suffered significant damage due to the wildfire. Since Aug. 4 the power outage has affected 157 customers. BC Hydro wants to have the infrastructure back in place before the evacuation is lifted. A spokesperson said today crews are working closely with Emergency Management BC and BC Wildfire Service officials in the hopes of getting access today for repairs estimated to last two days.
“This will all be dependant on the fire situation at that time,” said the spokesperson. “Our priority is to restore the medical aid building and community water pumping station as soon as possible.”