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BC Wildfire Service criticized for fighting fire with fire

In a teleconference on Thursday, Chief fire information officer for BC Wildfire Service, Kevin Skrepnek, responded to questions around how British Columbians are frustrated with the BC Wildfire Service about a controlled burn that got out of hand.

On August 2nd, the Elephant Hill wildfire was estimated at 84,442 hectares in size. By Thursday, August 3rd, the fire had grown to 97,100 hectares in size and is still reported to be actively burning with a 30% containment.

Skrepnek estimated the number of hectares for the controlled burn that got out of hand to be in the thousands.

If you think it is smoky in and around Vancouver, you should see the Fraser Canyon. At some places you can't see the mountains on the other side of the Canyon. . . . #wildfire #smoke #elephanthillfire #airquality

A post shared by Stacey Robinsmith (@adadintheburbs) on

It's been about three weeks since the province declared a State of Emergency and many evacuees are in a general state of anxiety, wondering when they can go home, collect their livestock and return to their health care provider.

So far, more than 40,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. Many of returned home, but others still await the good news.

As residents eagerly wait to hear they can go home, they're questioning the use of a controlled burn in such a volatile situation.

But according to Skrepnek, this particular fire had seasoned firefighters attacking it. He backed up the crew saying they have plenty of experience with controlled burns.

Those are smoke clouds, not cloud clouds! #elephanthillfire #clintonbc #bc #britishcolumbia #wildfires

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While he understands people's frustrations, he stands by the 'fighting fire with fire' motto saying it's the best way to attack some of the current fires.

As far as the fire getting out of hand, he mentioned wind, temperatures and the already aggressive behaviour is what led to the fire getting away from the team.

Below shows the location of the Elephant Hill fire and the area where it spread past Bonaparte River (red lines).

<who> Photo Credit: BC government

In a BC Wildfire Service report, this particular fire is described as having "unpredictable winds and extremely dry conditions (which) are creating some volatile fire behaviour and challenging firefighting efforts."

The fire grew at the north perimeter where it cross the Bonaparte River.

BC Wildfire Service's reasoning behind using controlled burns was to be proactive in areas where there are still pockets of dry fuels that have not burned and will likely ignite when the winds change.

If and when these dry pockets ignite, it will likely send embers to unburned areas both in and outside the perimeter.

Some photos over the last few days from our night ops at the Elephant Hill fire.

A post shared by Jocelyn Poirier-Hardy (@jocelyn_ph) on

"The most effective way to eliminate this effect is to burn off these fuels in a controlled manner when weather conditions permit," stated the report.
There are more than 600 personnel working day and night to fight the Elephant Hill fire.
Again Skrepnek emphasized that it's "one of the most effective tools for fighting fires of this size," adding that "it's not a fire we can just use water on."
Skrepnek said he understands the frustrations, but that using water simply won't cut it.
So far the wildfires in B.C. have burned an estimated 491,782 hectares.
More firefighting crews are on their way to B.C. from Australia and New Zealand.

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