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Heavy smoke grounds air operations at Testalinden Creek fire

Air operations on the Testalinden Creek wildfire have been grounded due to the heavy smoke, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015.
Image Credit: Contributed/B.C. Wildfire Service
August 23, 2015 - 1:23 PM

OLIVER – With visibility down to less than a kilometre at times, B.C. Wildfire won’t be using any air tankers or helicopters in the fight against the wildfire near Oliver.

The smoke plumes from the giant forest fires burning in Washington State, including the 168-square kilometre Stickpin fire about 4.5 kilometres south of the Canada-US border, have drifted into southern B.C. to mix with smoke from the Testalinden Creek fire.

The fight against Testalinden Creek fire, which is over 3,100-hecares in size, will be a ground game until the smoke clears.

Air operations have been grounded due to poor visibility, fire information office Heather Rice says.

“The smoke which blew in overnight is thick enough, and causing enough visibility issues, our air operations have been halted for the day,” Rice says.

She says their aviation people “will be constantly assessing the situation and monitor whether or not it’s safe enough to fly.”

The smoke is as bad, or worse, than it was in 2003 when the Okanagan Mountain Park fire and several others in the region were creating huge smoke plumes, she says.

Over 220 firefighters and about 20 pieces of heavy equipment will be working to extend the fireguard around the perimeter today.

This contributed photo was taken Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015 before the helicopters and water bombers fighting the Testalinden Creek fire were grounded because of the thick forest fire smoke.
This contributed photo was taken Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015 before the helicopters and water bombers fighting the Testalinden Creek fire were grounded because of the thick forest fire smoke.
Image Credit: Contributed/B.C. Wildfire Service

The “proactive” evacuation alert, which covers 183 homes in the area, remains in effect.

"This expansion to the existing evacuation alert is due to wildfire growth in the uplands of Kobau Mountain," the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen says in a media release. Occupants must be prepared to leave at a moment's notice.

Environment Canada has issued an air quality alert for the Okanagan, southern interior and Kootenay regions, warning there are high levels of fine particulate matter in the air and cautioning people to avoid strenuous activity outdoors.

Meanwhile, Canadian crews will offer relief to exhausted U.S. firefighters.

Fire information officer Fanny Bernard says the fire remains a strong concern and it will send resources including two 20-member action crews today.

"The U.S. crews are professionals. They've been working very, very hard on this fire," Bernard says.

"They've had good success with containment lines to the west as well as to the north. The crews that we are sending tomorrow are basically going to be taking over where U.S. crews left off."

She said the service has been working for days on an agreement allowing Canadian firefighters to take control of the northern section of the blaze.

About 200 wildfires are burning across B.C. and the province has spent $224 million on firefighting efforts this year.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Howard Alexander at halexander@infonews.ca. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

— With files from The Canadian Press

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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