Kitimat knocks down wildfire, likely caused by campfire

Water tankers and helicopters were called in to handle a wildfire near Kitimat's downtown.

The Kitimat Fire Department says an unattended campfire is the likely cause of a one hectare wildfire which put at risk the developments at Strawberry Meadows and left downtown blanketed in smoke July 17.

The blaze was in challenging geography for the local fire department to reach and after an intial assessment they called the Northwest Fire Centre, based in Smithers, for aerial support.

Water tankers and helicopters were immediately dispatched to get the fire under control.

Meanwhile heavy machinery was put to use to create fire breaks, to contain the fire if it managed to spread.

A fire break is essentially knocking down trees and leaving a fire-fuel free buffer.

“We weren’t allowing any members to go in, of our members or their [forest fire] members to go in, just due to certain hazards. The condition of the fire and the speed it was progressing,” said Deputy Fire Chief Pete Bizarro.

In all there were about seven air drops with water tankers, while helicopters continued to drop water throughout the evening.

Once air support finished ground forest fire fighters went in and took care of hot spots.

“Jack [Oviatt] was on site, obviously had lots of equipment. We had a number of excavators working to make these fire guards,” added Bizarro.

The fire was also the first activation of Kitimat’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) since they set up in the Public Safety Building in the former council chambers.

“Equipment and personnel all gelled really well, and we’re very pleased with the outcome of the EOC,” said Bizarro, saying their new set up proved very useful.

As for evacuations, the Lower Dyke area was evacuated but he said there was no imminent danger to campers in the area.

“The only reason I initiated that is because of the direction of the wind and the fact it would take some time for those campers to leave,” he said.

If an evacuation was needed emergency services, including the fire department and the RCMP, would do a combination door-to-door knocking, loudspeaker service and using local media to alert people of the need to leave, and would establish a place for evacuees to gather.

One Kitimat Firefighter did injure his ankle during the event and was treated at hospital and released.