Clearwater not yet in the clear as fire threatens district

By Jill Sperling
July 17, 2017 - 7:00pm

CLEARWATER, B.C. — The District of Clearwater is a community on the edge of evacuation. 

A large wildfire burns just across the river, and has already caused and evacuation order to be issued for East Blackpool.

As smoke billows from the hillside above the communities, Clearwater mayor John Harwood says tension is high.

"We've just issued, within the last 24 hours, an alert," Harwood said. "That raises the amount of tension around the town, and people anticipating what the next steps will be." 

Fire crews are working day and night, attempting to gain the upper the upper hand on the more than 3,000 hectare Dunn Lake Fire. 

The Blackpool Fire Department has called in additional people and equipment to help them defend against the blaze. 

"The fire growth and the aggressive nature of the fire was such that we made the decision in the event it sparked on this side of the river in order to stop it from any further advancement we needed additional support," said Deputy Fire Chief Mike Savage. 

Equipment from Merritt and Barriere were among the resources provided by outside fire departments. 

More man-power was also sent, with each member receiving necessary training to familiarize themselves with each others' equipment. 

This after a tense weekend saw flames get a little too close for comfort.

"Saturday night we watched what would be described as some of the most spectacular fire behaviour most of us have ever seen," Savage said. 

"We watched the fire actually creep up the backside of the hill and the flames shooting 100 feet in the air." 

In Clearwater rows of tents have been set up for provincial, and out-of-province firefighters. 

"We're working with the local community, of course," said Fire Information Officer Shannon Bond. "Here in the field we have just under 100 firefighters that are staying in the camps. Those are men and women that are up early, easily putting in 14 hours a day fighting fires on the front lines, coming out having supper at 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening, and then they come here and sleep." 

For now, the weather appears to be cooperating for crews trying to attack and limit the spread of the blaze. 

"We've been fortunate that yesterday as well as today are much cooler, much quieter, less wind," Bond said. "It's really given us an opportunity to get crews in there, to get heavy equipment in there, they've completely encircled little hot spots and so now they're able to action those from the air as well as from the ground." 

A big priority for firefighters is keeping the fire away from Highway 5. Should an evacuation alert be issued it is the only route heading south out of the communities.

"This is an extremely serious fire fight for us, basically if it gets past us we're into an evacuation order," Savage said. "This is the last line of defense." 

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