On August 4, fire at the southeast corner of the Elephant Hill wildfire had moved toward Highway 1 near the former mushroom compost facility. The fire did not reach or cross the highway. Photo by Tom Moe.

Elephant Hill wildfire still out of control

Crews are working to keep up with the fire, which now covers 110,236 hectares.

The Elephant Hill wildfire, which started south of Ashcroft on July 6, has expanded to cover more than 110,000 hectares and is still just 30 per cent contained.

“It’s still out of control,” fire information officer Max Birkner told The Journal on August 8. “We’re racing to keep up with the size of the fire.” He adds that the incident command post for the fire has now been moved from 100 Mile House to Clinton. The Village of Clinton itself remains under an Evacuation Order that was put in place on July 29.

Firefighters, heavy equipment, and helicopters continue their efforts in focusing on homes and infrastructure, but unpredictable winds and extremely dry conditions are creating some volatile fire behaviour and challenging firefighting efforts. “We have sustained hot and dry conditions,” says Birkner. “We’re continuing with night crews and heavy equipment in addition to the daytime efforts.”

Regularly updated bulletin boards have been put in place at the Ashcroft post office and the Cache Creek visitor information centre. As of the time of writing on August 8, all area highways remain open except Highway 97 between the junction with Highway 99 and the junction with Highway 24. As road conditions can change quickly in a wildfire situation, travellers are advised to check www.drivebc.ca for any new closures or delays.

At the present time there are 414 firefighters, 25 helicopters, and 105 pieces of heavy equipment working on the fire. Resource numbers have also been increasing in order to best address the incident and keep adjacent communities safe. There is an incident management team, 86 support staff, and 89 structural protection personnel working on the fire.

The BC Wildfire Service has confirmed that the fire was human-caused, and it is now the subject of an RCMP investigation. The two agencies are working together in efforts to make a full determination on the cause of the fire. The RCMP is seeking the public’s assistance and would like to speak with anyone who has information.

Speaking with The Journal on August 2, RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said that this is the only statement that BC Wildfire Service and the RCMP have made about the Elephant Hill fire investigation, despite some media reports that it is suspected that the fire was deliberately set.

“We have made no statement about that,” confirms Moskaluk. “The investigation is ongoing, and we do have investigators in the community. We ask anyone with information to please contact us.”

Anyone with information about this fire is asked to contact the RCMP dedicated tip line at 1-855-685-8788.

On August 1, a controlled burn near 20 Mile escaped fire guards and crossed Highway 97 along the top of a ridge near 20 Mile (see story on page 9). Because of this fire activity, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) issued an evacuation order for an area southwest of the Village of Clinton on Tuesday, August 2. The order stated that “A rapidly moving wildfire currently located in Electoral Area “E” and Electoral Area “I” continues to threaten properties in the area.” The area had been placed on Evacuation Alert on August 1.

A further Evacuation Order for several properties in Electoral Area “I” south of 16 Mile was issued on Friday, August 4. The properties are along Highway 99 west of the Highway 97 junction, and had been placed on Evacuation Alert on August 3.

Strong winds from the north on August 4 also caused a portion of the southeast corner of the Elephant Hill wildfire to begin burning south toward Highway 1 east of Cache Creek near the former mushroom compost facility.

Cache Creek fire chief Tom Moe, who was driving past the site at around 10 a.m., said on Facebook that the fire “Doesn’t look too bad yet, and saw about 7 structural protection firetrucks and sprinkler unit on scene monitoring it.”

An Ashcroft resident who passed through the area at approximately 2:30 that afternoon said that there was a large police presence at Deadman, and structural crews heading in that direction from Cache Creek.

He also noted a large staging post for forestry crews at Battle Creek Road, as well as crews working across from the former mushroom compost plant several kilometres east of Cache Creek.

The fire was running parallel to the highway at a distance of about one kilometre. Aircraft were able to lay retardant between the fire and the highway.

To date the fire has not crossed Highway 1, but an Evacuation Order was issued by the TNRD on August 4 for the Deadman-Vidette area.

The Skeetchestn Indian Band also ordered an evacuation.

Birkner said that, conditions permitting, a fairly large controlled burn was being planned for August 8 in the Young Lake area, north of Skeetchestn. “It will be a pretty big operation.”

Also on August 4, areas in the Tranquille Valley and in and around Hat Creek were placed on Evacuation Alert, and a State of Local Emergency was declared in Electoral Area “J” (Copper Desert Country).