An information meeting about the wildfire situation in Cache Creek on July 21 drew approximately 100 residents to the community hall to hear from representatives from different agencies and also ask questions.
A spokesperson from the BC Wildfire Service said the wildfires throughout the Central Interior were an “unprecedented situation” for the service. “We’re working through this, and trying to get containment so people from Cache Creek can come off Evacuation Alert.” He added “We’re coming up with strategies to get information to you,” including notice boards in Cache Creek, Ashcroft, and Clinton.
A fire behaviour specialist said that Mother Nature gave the area a bit of a hand last week, but that high winds are a factor in the region. “We’ve had cooler temperatures and favourable weather conditions, but we still have a long fire season ahead.” He added that the perimeter of the fire—which now covers more than 61,000 hectares—is 172km in total.
One of the primary objectives is to keep the fire away from the Bonaparte River on the plateau northeast of Cache Creek. “It’s challenging terrain in that area. We’ve established firefighters there to do burn offs and construct fire breaks, and have been supporting ground crews with helicopters. On the plateau we can establish lines with bulldozers and equipment, but with the smoke it’s hard to see 200 to 300 metres ahead.
“We’re trying to pinch off the fire, and are continuously flying over and monitoring the fire where we have been. A lot of work is happening. This is one of the top three fires in the province. Life and property are key, but the safety of the first responders is paramount.”
A member of the audience stood up to offer heartfelt thanks to all the firefighters. “I came home to a house, but some didn’t. I want you all to know how much we thank you.” The comment drew one of several standing ovations during the meeting.
Mayor John Ranta acknowledged the work of firefighters, including those from Ashcroft. “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Village of Ashcroft. Chief Josh White worked tirelessly on behalf of the Village of Cache Creek until a day or so ago. We owe them a lot.” Ranta also praised the “amazing ladies” who kept the table of food at the fire hall supplied. “It’s a demonstration of the generosity of the small community we live in.”
A spokesperson for the RCMP said that it was nice to attend a town hall meeting with so many standing ovations, and praised the BC Wildfire Service for their work, their accuracy, and the science behind it. He added that the RCMP, during the time that Cache Creek and surrounding communities were evacuated, worked hard to keep people out of where they shouldn’t be. [Police are still watching the areas that are under evacuation order.]
He noted that roads are still closed in some affected areas. “You won’t get past us, so please don’t try. Trees are the next big issue, because the roots burn and the trees are silent killers. They just come down. Please trust the expertise of the BC Wildfire Service.”
He added that “wheels are in motion” to look into the cause of the fire. “Please don’t speculate.”
Cache Creek fire chief Tom Moe welcomed everyone home. “This was a unique fire,” he said. “The department has never had to deal with a fire on this scale. The fire was on both sides of the Bonaparte and came within 20 feet of the water plant.” Moe said that Cache Creek firefighters worked 24 hours a day, and were able to locate most fires at night with the fire department’s digital imaging thermal camera.
He also said thank you to the Ashcroft Volunteer Fire Department. “We’ve formed a huge bond with them and Chief Josh White. Thank you to all who helped and supported us. We’ve never tackled anything this big.”
Dave Schiller of the Red Cross talked about the assistance the organization is providing for residents, including a $600 grant for evacuees and a $300 re-entry grant. “We’re here for you. We appreciate you’ve been through a lot, and it’s a privilege to be here to help you.”
An Interior Health official said that IH had been to the area to check for hazards and clean up after the fire. It was confirmed that the power was out in Cache Creek for a total of five hours in two tranches.
Chief administrative officer Keir Gervais provided an overview of the services provided while the village was evacuated, noting that the water supply was tested regularly and that the pool and infrastructure had been maintained. He added that the Campbell Hill airport had been turned over to the BC Wildfire Service and the 13 aircraft they were using in the area.
“Crews worked around the clock, and slept at the community hall,” Gervais said. He also praised the “wonder women” who provided “hundreds and hundreds of meals for the crews.
“We worked with the Red Cross and the United Way to have services ready for you when you returned. And I’m so proud to have such a wonderful group of volunteer firefighters.”