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Residents threatened by wildfire near Oliver feeling uneasy

A wildfire near Felicity Johnson's home on McKinney Road.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Felicity Johnson
July 31, 2021 - 3:41 PM

Some residents of a rural community near Oliver are saying the early response to a wildfire burning close to their homes left them feeling unsupported.

Mason Schmidt, who lives on McCuddy Creek Road, has been evacuated due to the Nk'Mip Creek wildfire burning near Osoyoos and Oliver.

He’s been returning to check on his home every day, despite being under an evacuation order because when the order originally came in last week, he said the community saw little support from the B.C. Wildfire Service for days.

“I feel like our community has really been left behind," he said.

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One neighbour who had experience fighting wildfires "had taken on basically the mantle of protecting all of our homes,” he said. The neighbour was running pumps and lines to houses for days.

Neighbours installed their own fire break, he said, and last Saturday water tankers were in the area as well as firefighters, but on Sunday that morning there was no one around.

This Wednesday, there were crews on site doing structure security with water dams set up and sprinkler systems.

As of Friday morning, “everything feels a lot (calmer),” he said.

Felicity Johnson, who lives above Shrike Hill Road on McKinney Road, said the wildfire is currently burning on her property but she and her partner decided to stay because they have equipment, water trucks and excavators to help fight it.

“For us, we were fortunate, it only took out our trailer, but that was OK, it was only our storage trailer,” she said.

Initially, she didn’t see much of a response from the B.C. Wildfire Service. She isn’t blaming the service, but said she saw only a handful of wildfire crews on the ground in the first few days and a maximum of two helicopters at any given time.

“We haven’t seen any water bombers but I do understand there are forest fires around the province and resources are thin and that’s when the community stepped up,” she said.

Now there’s been heavy equipment, firefighters in the area and water tanker trucks on scene.

“There are guards all over the place, that’s something they’ve been continuously doing,” she said.

“It’s sitting fairly low right now, we have our exit strategy,” she said, Friday, July 30.

Dani McIntosh, with the B.C. Wildfire Service, said when the initial evacuation order came into place at Shrike Hill Road area, resources were limited as B.C. is under extreme conditions and the service is responding to numerous incidents.

“We have managed to get additional resources in that time so while we have had resources in that subdivision that whole time, we have more available to add to the effort there,” she said.

“We’ve also had a night crew that’s been doing structure protection and suppression in that Shrike Road division overnight so there’s a lot of activity going on that residents couldn’t see in those hours."

McIntosh couldn’t speak to whether the presence of residents in the neighbourhood were helpful or not, but the service always recommends residents obey evacuation alerts and orders for their own safety and for safety of crew members, she said.

Winds increased fire activity yesterday afternoon and crews are continuing with the same efforts that have been ongoing in the last few days.

The fire is currently listed at 13,000 but the service won’t get an update on the fire’s size until next week due to resource availability, she said. There are 46 structural protection personnel, 186 wildfire personnel, five helicopters and 14 heavy equipment operators on site.

The fire is growing on its north and northeast flanks towards the Mount Baldy area. Crews continue work on the fire guards on the south and east flanks, as well as continuing structure protection in the Shrike Road area, and structure protection at Mount Baldy is being assessed and a guard is being placed around the community.

Crews are also patrolling the Camp McKinney Road and Nk'Mip Road for hotspots.

A new firefighter camp is being set up at the Oliver airport and all wildfire personnel will be moving there today with full operations commencing Sunday, McIntosh said. They were previously staying at Spirit Ridge Resort in Osoyoos.


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