More than 350 people attended a community meeting in Sicamous in person or via online Sunday, July 25, for an update on the Two Mile wildfire. (Black Press file photo)

More than 350 people attended a community meeting in Sicamous in person or via online Sunday, July 25, for an update on the Two Mile wildfire. (Black Press file photo)

Sicamous community meeting draws large crowd for fire update

Crowd gets information, then gives emergency personnel applause at Two Mile community meeting

One woman in the crowd promised a rain dance.

Alan Berry wants everyone in and around Sicamous to crush spiders in their home.

Anything that will bring precipitation to help with the Two Mile fire and all the wildfires burning around B.C.

Berry, from the BC Wildfire Service, is the incident commander of the wildland component of the Two Mile blaze, a post he arrived at Saturday. He, along with Sicamous Fire Chief Brett Ogino, and Derek Sutherland and Tracy Hughes from the Columbia Shuswap Regional District/Shuswap Emergency Program, were the featured speakers at a hastily called community meeting Sunday afternoon, July 25, at the Sicamous Curling Club.

The meeting was to update residents – those evacuated and those on evacuation alert – on the fire. More than 150 people showed up at the curling rink, and another 300-plus took in the 90-minute session on Zoom conferencing.

“The last 24 hours for me have been about situational awareness,” said Berry. “It cleared up Saturday so I went for a flight around the whole fire. I’d estimate it’s still about 1,000 hectares in size. It’s not moving with a ton of growth but there’s still a lot of work to do.”

Berry told the crowd to imagine Mara Lake running north-south. The focus, he said, has been on the north and south perimeter, trying to put out the first 100 feet of fire of the perimeter to stop it from growing laterally toward the communities of Sicamous to the north and Swansea Point to the south.

“The south end is still the area we are most concerned with,” said Berry. “It’s more exposed. It’s got a good edge but it’s not progressing but only for the first 20-to-30 feet. We need to continue to patrol that area and tie it into Hummingbird Creek on the south end. The south end is at more risk at higher elevation.”

A question asked from the crowd dealt with the weather forecast for the upcoming long weekend. It’s supposed to get hotter again.

“We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature,” said Berry. “The hotter temperatures and lower relative humidities are more challenging for us, they increase fire behaviour and it impacts the crew. We’re only a third of the way through fire season and this crew has been on multiple fires.

“The main thing we’re worried about is wind. We will continue to get spot (weather) forecasts and adjust our operations as such.”

Visitors on the August long weekend usually mean tourists, or those who have cabins or other facilities on the lake. Hughes read a statement from the Shuswap Emergency Program asking visitors to please stay away from the alert area.

“The Shuswap Emergency Program cannot recommend people come to an alert area at this time,” said Hughes. “The more people that come to an area on alert, should that alert turn to an evacuation order, that means more people we have to get out out. We can’t recommend people come in.

“We know it’s a sensitive topic. It’s near and dear to many hearts and wallets. It’s a resort community whose bread and butter is tourists. It’s a difficult burden, but we can’t in good conscience for the safety of people recommend you come and stay in your cabin in an alert area.”

The evacuation order in Sicamous remains in effect and the group with the authority to lift it is Sicamous mayor and council. Mayor Terry Rysz said they’re not prepared to do that at this point.

“Not until I know everybody is safe and we’ve got this under control,” said Rysz. “We don’t want to see anybody get hurt. Nobody. That’s why it’s a tough call.”

One man asked for more security for his Dogwood and Cottonwood neighbourhoods, saying while he’s on evacuation order, people who don’t live in his neighbourhood have been spotted walking dogs and riding bikes. Sicamous RCMP Cpl. Wade Fisher responded by saying more resources are coming.

“We do have a finite number of resources but we’ve brought in a couple of extra bodies to assist primarily with patrolling where residents have been evacuated by order,” said Fisher, who also garnered a large ovation. “We don’t have the manpower to put police officers at the road checks.”

Highway 97A between Sicamous and Enderby has been closed for nearly a week. Sutherland told the audience that won’t change unless there’s progress made on the fire, and even then it would likely be single-lane alternating traffic.

Ogino also wants to keep the highway closed for safety reasons.

“Our engines have been patrolling and doing hot spots along the highway and things have calmed down considerably,” he said. “The challenge is the area burned above is dropping trees onto the power lines. We had one of our engines get stuck behind a sizeable tree that came right down to the highway. If it had hit the truck it would have severely damaged it and possibly injured our crew.

“So obviously that’s a big concern. I’m concerned for my crews driving, I wouldn’t want the public driving through there.”

The Sicamous department has received help fighting the fire from the likes of Malakwa, Ranchero and the evacuated Swansea Point fire departments. Ogino and Berry received large ovations from the crowd, the public’s way of saying thank you for the efforts.

While the town hall-style meeting was a huge hit, Hughes said the best places to get information on the fire is through the CSRD and Shuswap Emergency Program websites.

The regional district launched an emergency mass notification system Friday, July 25, called Alertable, which is available at the Apple Store or Google Play for smartphones.

“The mobile app is the most desirable option and you can set up what area you would like to be notified for,” said Hughes. “All critical alerts will go to your phone.”

Notifications can also be texted or emailed.

READ MORE: Sicamous hosts community meeting Sunday afternoon to update fire situation

READ MORE: Columbia Shuswap Regional District updates fire situation

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B.C. Wildfires 2021