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‘Us-versus-them-mentality’ in North Shuswap hindering firefighting effort

Citizens urged to evacuate, firefighters available to deal with any issues that arise
North Shuswap resident Jody Evans attempts to control a spot fire left in the wake of the Bush Creek East wildfire that spread through the area Friday night, Aug. 18, 2023. (Angela Lagore photo)

The BC Wildfire Service is urging collaboration, not an “us-versus-them mentality” as firefighting efforts continue in the North Shuswap.

This was a message shared by BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) information officer Forrest Tower during a Tuesday afternoon (Aug. 22) update on the 40,000-plus hectare Bush Creek East wildfire hosted by the Columbia Shuswap Regional District and the Shuswap Emergency Program (SEP).

Tower said there’s been an increasing number of incidents involving response agencies (from wildland and structural firefighters to government officials) at roadblocks in the evacuation order area in the North Shuswap, “interactions that seem to be increasingly escalating in terms of some of the issues that are happening, that’s going to have a long-term impact in terms of how relationships are managed going forward.”

“Not in a threatening way, just in a way that it’s hard to work together when it’s a very us-versus-them mentality,” said Tower, who urged people to think about the “long-term impacts of some of the decisions being made.”

Asked about efforts to bring in supplies to citizens who have stayed in the evacuation order areas, SEP emergency operations director Derek Sutherland said their presence is creating an unsafe environment for BC Wildfire. To address the issue, Sutherland said security has been increased.

“The message that I want to provide to the community is there are enough resources on this fire to actively engage whatever comes at them, and if there aren’t enough resources, we have resources waiting to go into the communities to deal with this,” said Sutherland. “So community members can feel safe and secure that there are firefighters to deal with any issues that arise on their property if and when they choose to evacuate.

“So I would encourage them to evacuate sooner rather than later.”

Tower briefly addressed concerns and misinformation/”counter narrative” about a planned ignition conducted Thursday evening, Aug. 17, in an attempt to contain the fire that, on the following night was moved around by strong winds into Lee Creek, Scotch Creek and Celista.

“Anyone who wants to have a 40-minute conversation with me, please call… I have timelines that go down to the minute of the decision we made,” said Tower.

Earlier in the meeting, Tower provided a breakdown of resources currently working the Bush Creek East blaze. He said there were about 120 wildland firefighters alone, and that number would be increasing, as well as over 100 structure protection firefighters and other personnel.

Read more: North Shuswap firefighter claims people bringing food, water to crews are being blocked

Read more: New Shuswap fire alert on BCWS map not related to wildfire evacuation risk

Below is a breakdown of BC Wildfire Service priorities as of Tuesday morning:

• Little Shuswap: Crews in the Loakin Bear Creek area focused on establishing guard, mopping up and removing unburnt fuel along Loakin Bear Creek Road. Machine guard being implemented and crews mopping up along this guard.

• West and East of Adams Lake: BCWS monitoring properties on both sides of Adams Lake and actively working with transportation ministry to get Holding Bridge repaired and Holding Road cleared. Repairs expected to take 4-5 days. Ferry management engaged with any repairs, maintenance or fueling required for the ferry. Effective community response engaged with BCWS on both sides of lake. Interfor strike team mopping up in Adams FSR area. Daily downed/fallen tree assessments along Adams FSR and 5400 Road. Interfor also working with crews to extinguish hot spots above Agate Bay.

• Little Shuswap Lake: Crews mopping up at intersection of Loakin Bear Road and Banshee FSR, along the Cougar FSR, from Little Shuswap Lake to Banshee Road and along 5400 Road. Crews established a wet line above structures, and working upslope, having almost reached the top of the saddle.

• Sorrento: Initial attack crews, a unit crew and structure protection task force working fire perimeter around structures on the west side of Sorrento. Currently no imminent threat to the railway and BCWS is working with CP Rail on suppression. Currently increased fire activity in this area, and local fire department is working with BCWS with a task force of three engines and two tenders. Initial attack crew will support overnight. 18 sets of structure protection equipment have been set up on structures in north Sorrento.

• Scotch Creek/Lee Creek: Crews working to build hand guard directly along the fire’s edge, above Scotch Creek. Expected to be completed by end of the day, Aug. 24. Ground crews building hand guard, heavy equipment working to build a machine guard behind Lee Creek, working east from Eva Road to Lee Creek Drive. Crews working to build a hand line and remove unburnt fuel from the fire’s edge on the east side of Adams Lake. Unit crew working on building a hand line near Hilliman Road, working to the east.

• Celista/Magna Bay: Heavy equipment building guard below fire’s edge in Celista, working towards Magna Bay. Machine line running from eastern perimeter above private property in Magna Bay connecting to Ross Creek being established.

• Turtle Valley: Initial attack crew, structure protection task force and heavy equipment task force working in this area. Line locators guiding machine guard construction. Unit crew will be in the area reinforcing the machine line and working fire’s perimeter. Structure protection specialists have triaged structures and set up equipment in the English Road area. BCWS Crews conducting patrols from Magna Bay to Turtle Valley. They responded to a new lightning start above Magna Bay at 3 a.m. Crews continue to work on extinguishing this target.
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