A fire burning on the west side of Sugar Lake grew Thursday but has since been re-mapped at 22.9 hectares. (David Fairful photo)

More wildfires discovered near Lumby, Cherryville

Canadian Armed Troops in Okanagan, Mabel Creek blaze creeps towards lake

UPDATE Friday 5 p.m.

Even more new wildfires have been spotted in the Monashee Complex.

A seven-hectare blaze has been discovered north of Sugar Lake at Deer Creek. It is near the Spectrum Creek spot fire.

Near Mabel Lake, a spot-sized fire has been discovered at Simard Creek.

At the north end of Mabel Lake a .1 hectare fire is burning at Devil Creek Forest Service Road. It is near the 35 hectare Devil Creek blaze.

Meanwhile the largest fire in the area, the Mabel Creek blaze, is nearing Mabel Lake.

“It’s getting closer,” said Randy Smith, who has property in the area.

But the blaze is still not threatening any structures.

Canadian Armed Forces troops are in Vernon, but are not actioning the Monashee Complex fires yet. The members are in town to take over on mop up when firefighters have completed their roles.

See: Armed troops in Okanagan to help firefighters

“Our soldiers come in and make sure it stays contained and doesn’t flare up,” said Bonnie Wilken, third Canadian Division public affairs.

In other wildfire news: Naramata firefighters diverted after fires breach Burns Lake camp

UPDATE Friday 12:30 p.m.

Firefighters have gotten a handle on several blazes near Cherryville.

The Sprokton Creek fire burning near Sugar Lake is now estimated at 22.9 hectares (down from 103.4 Thursday evening).

Two new fires burning in the Silver Hills area also appear to have calmed down. The larger Woodward Creek fire is five hectares.

Nearby resident Jessie Campbell noticed the fires Thursday across Shuswap River facing north by the Cherryville Golf Course. Helicopters were seen circling the blaze and by Friday morning the Campbell reported there was less smoke coming from the fires.

“Hoping the helicopters come back today,” said Campbell.

BC Wildfire Service confirms that further actioning will take place today.

See: Whole city of Kimberly on evacuation alert

An incident management team from Ontario is now managing the Monashee Complex wildfires, taking over from Parks Canada.

“The team’s Fire Behaviour Analyst will be getting accurate sizes of the priority fires and performing assessments and projections,” Incident Commander Joel Legasy states in his report.

The Woodward Creek fires were two of three new fire starts within the complex Thursday, the other being near Three Valley Gap.

One concern for crews is the weather. Unstable airmass is causing risks of late day thunderstorms. Winds and the slow uptrend in the weather will lead to an increase in fire behaviour.

“Possibility of increased starts today and potential for active fire behaviour as smoke lifts,” reports Legasy, adding: “It is unlikely that the smoke will clear today.”

Along with the smoke, residents are dealing with ash, particularly those in Cherryville.

“I woke up to my truck windshield covered in ash on Creighton by Echo,” said Britnee Boychuk. “No good.”

See related: Ash falling in the Okanagan

UPDATE Thursday, 7 p.m.

Two new wildfires are burning near Cherryville.

The B.C. Wildfire Service reports two Woodward Creek fires (.4 and .01 hectares) discovered Thursday in the Silver Hills area.

Growth has also been observed at the Sprokton Creek fire, which is now estimated at 103.4 hectares. The fire is visible to campers and recreationalists on the west side of Sugar Lake. It is not currently threatening the public.

See related: Hazy skies impacting crews in spotting new fires


UPDATE Thursday, 2 p.m.

The Monashee Complex started at 27 fires and now covers 15 fires in the drainages of Mabel and Sugar lakes from just south of Highway 6 in Lumby and Cherryville to Three Valley Gap in the north.

The change in number is due to a few factors: Mabel Creek burned into several smaller fires, some fires are now out or under control, and others have been transferred to the Vernon Zone. The Whip Creek and Smyth Creek fires (south of the Mabel Creek blaze) burned together Wednesday. That fire is an estimated 173 hectares and is not threatening any structures.

“We are beginning to see an increase in fire behaviour and are responding and strategizing accordingly,” said Jane Park, incident commander in her report. “A small holdover fire from Saturday’s storm exhibited increased fire behaviour yesterday (Wednesday). We responded with air support and continue to monitor and assess the situation (Thursday). We are anticipating additional holdover lightning fires.”

That is the Sprokton Creek fire, visible to campers and recreationalists on the west side of Sugar Lake. It is not currently threatening the public.

Meanwhile there have been two reports of firefighting equipment being stolen. An ATV, chainsaw, tool box and more were stolen from the back of a firefighter tree faller’s truck from the Village Green Hotel last week. Another theft near Mabel Lake saw $1,000 worth of water hoses and a pump stolen.

Closures remain in place and have been expanded near Mabel and Sugar lakes.

“We have had a number of reports of people violating the area restrictions and the Forest Service Road closure that are in place for the safety of our workers as well as for the safety of the public,” Park’s report reads. “As such, we are working with our enforcement partners to have a higher presence of Natural Resource Officers in the area of the Mabel Lake Forest Service Road.”

Over at Harris Creek, hand ignitions are being performed to reduce unburned fuels and strengthen containment lines.

Danger trees are a hazard throughout the Monashee Complex, with many fires burning in high elevation with steep and rocky terrain.

Smoky conditions have also been challenging operations, grounding air attacks and making it difficult to detect new starts and holdover lightning fires.

Meanwhile with the provincial state of emergency underway, approximately 280 Canadian Armed Forces members are in the Okanagan to assist. The first mission is at the Gottfriedsen Mountain fire west of Kelowna to start the mop-up of contained fires. The Forces will stage from the Vernon Cadet Camp and the town of Merritt, as well as Kelowna.


UPDATE Wednesday, 4 p.m.

The Whip Creek and the Smyth Creek fires near Mabel Lake have burned together.

“From this point forward, these fires will be managed together as one under the name Whip Creek,” the B.C. Wildfire Service reports. “Currently, the Whip Creek fire is being resourced and actioned.”

The fire, estimated at 173 hectares, is not threatening any structures at this time.

But area restrictions have been expanded to encompass the area of the Whip Creek fire. Restrictions have also expanded northwest of Sugar Lake.

See related: B.C. declares state of emergency as more than 560 wildfires rage

The remainder of the fires burning in the Monashee Complex are either full response monitor-only fires or as full response – modified fires.

Priority continues to be given to the fires of note: Mabel Creek, Sugar Mountain and Harris Creek.

Meanwhile the forecast isn’t favourable for the fires.

A ridge is currently rebuilding, which could bring higher temperatures and lower humidity values.

“We are expecting to see an increase in fire behaviour later this week and are strategizing accordingly,” BCWS states. “There may even be some lightning holdovers from Saturday’s storm in the area that could flare up later this week.”

Smoky conditions have also proven challenging, but an anticipated increased visibility Wednesday was hoped to allow for increased fire suppression as well as the opportunity to fly rotary aircraft.

See: Okanagan air quality at a high health risk


UPDATE Tuesday 7:30 p.m.

The BC Wildfire Service has released their Tuesday evening update for the Monashee Complex wildfires.

The provincial firefighting service reports none of the three major fires in the region have grown in size today.

The Mabel Creek wildfire is still pegged at 1,861 hectares and remains classified as out of control.

Both the Sugar Mountain and Harris Creek fires are holding at 332 and 508 hectares respectively.

The Monashee Complex refers to the fires burning in the drainages of Mabel and Sugar lakes, from just south of Highway 6 in the south to Three Valley Gap in the north.

The largest challenge crews are facing is danger trees.

The trees in the video (below) are cedar, which burn from the inside out, until they fall without warning.

“The safety of our workers is our absolute top priority. The operations team has had to pull crews off of areas of the Devil’s Creek fire because of the hazard danger trees present,” BC Wildfire Service states.

Twelve Danger Tree Assessors/Danger Tree Fallers have been contracted on to this complex to help mitigate the risk of danger trees to firefighters.


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