In response to the wildfire in the Upper Squamish Valley, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District has joined the District of Squamish in declaring a local state of emergency.
“This is a very trying time for our communities already, in light of everything that is happening in our world right now,” said SLRD Board Chair Tony Rainbow in a news release.
“The majority of the Upper Squamish Valley is within the SLRD, and we are actively working with all of the many agencies involved in fighting this fire. Our thoughts are with all of the residents who are impacted by this fire.”
The SLRD continues to be in contact with lead agencies responding to this fire.
Local agencies are also co-ordinating efforts with the Squamish Nation as the Ch’iyakmesh Reserve is also under Evacuation Alert.
Authorities say several homes in the regional district have been evacuated and residents needing a place to stay have been directed to the Executive Suites Hotel in Squamish.
At that location, they will be connected with the Squamish Canadian Red Cross Emergency Support Services.
Last night, the District of Squamish had declared a state of emergency.
Declaring a state of local emergency enables municipalities to exercise extraordinary emergency powers.
"A wildfire and its impacts knows no borders, and so the swift and coordinated initial and ongoing effort of multiple jurisdictions is critical to effectively support the response, and most importantly to support those residents directly impacted," says District of Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott in the release.
"The District of Squamish, through declaring a local state of emergency, is prepared to receive and assist evacuees in conjunction with the Red Cross, and enables us to act quickly should this fire threaten residents within the District of Squamish. Our support efforts will be focused on all the residents who are impacted, and with the emergency personnel on the ground."
Evacuation orders remain in effect and RCMP are urging people to stay away from the area.
"Please give us support by not visiting the area and allowing us to focus on the work at hand," said Insp. Kara Triance.
The District's Meg Toom, with wildlife education and co-ordination, said wildlife and livestock may be fleeing the fire. Her advice for anyone who sees animals loose in the area is to call the Conservation Officer Service line: 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP) or #7277 on the TELUS Mobility Network.
Or report here: https://forms.gov.bc.ca/environment/rapp/ .
CO's are assisting @SquamishRCMP in the Paradise Valley as they go door-to-door handing out alert advisories in the wake of the wildfire in the #Squamish Valley - this means residents must be ready to be evacuated. For the latest info: https://t.co/jNhX293kPi @BCGovFireInfo pic.twitter.com/feBuZNjm5Y— BC CO Service (@_BCCOS) April 16, 2020
"We'll have to wait and see what effects the fire will have on the local wildlife. There is a herd of elk in Paradise Valley and of course the Upper Squamish Valley population, dispersal will occur as they seek shelter, food and water," she told The Chief
Growing, but teams on the ground and air
The fire had reached 60 hectares by late Wednesday night and 100 hectares by Thursday afternoon.
Fire information officer Donna MacPherson told The Chief that the fire, known officially as the Magee Road Fire remains out of control.
The fire is suspected to be human-caused and burning in heavy timber, MacPherson said.
(Originally, Squamish RCMP had called it an out of control slash fire. BC Wildfire Service say they are still investigating.)
To battle the blaze on April 16, are 37 BC Wildfire Service firefighters, three helicopters and three excavators on it, she said.
BC Hydro crews are in the area evaluating their power lines and poles.
On April 15, BC Wildfire Service had 22 firefighters and three helicopters battling the blaze.
The three excavators were also employed.
One crew stayed on the fire overnight to protect structures.
The Squamish Valley Campground, with six camping units, was evacuated by RCMP and BC Wildfire service.
The campground was ravaged by fire in the early evening, locals tell The Chief
The fire was "quite quiet" overnight, MacPherson said.
"It was down to what we call a ground fire. It wasn't burning much more than smoking ground with a little bit of open flame in the shrubs."
The blaze began at 4:15 p.m Wednesday afternoon, within the Upper Squamish Valley, which is within the Squamish Lillooet Regional District (SLRD).
Local government add their firefighting efforts
Squamish Fire Rescue (SFR) has two crews —10 firefighters and one engine — and a structural protection unit helping battle the blaze, according to the District.
The District fire department is working to protect structures and homes directly threatened by fire.
Rainbow said he was grateful for the assistance given by the District of Squamish as well as from a group of residents in the valley who have pitched in.
"A small group of volunteers... we have equipped them with some fire equipment and they have been working on the fire as well. They are not a full-fledged fire department but have training in wildfire suppression.
In the meantime, it’s been a scramble to see who has and hasn’t been affected by the fire.
Rainbow said the sisters from the Queen of Peace Monastery have been evacuated into Squamish, as well.
As of April 16 morning, the monastery had not been damaged.
"I am looking forward to the weekend and beyond," Rainbow said. "At least now we can close that [Squamish Valley Road] down. The last thing we need is sightseers poking around to have a look and we certainly don't need any campers going up there."
He said the biggest concern is the wind direction and if the fire moves further south.
Many of the residents up there don't have power now, and their wells run on electricity, so the SLRD will be looking at getting water out to them, he said.
Lauren Marghetti of Evans Lake Forest Education Society said the camp evacuated all its
staff and residents safely from the camp and have set up sprinklers on rooftops as a precaution.
“At this time, Evans Lake is not in immediate danger,” she wrote to The Chief. “We will update our social media channels as information becomes available.”
See image for current Evacuation Orders and Evacuation Alerts. We are working this morning with @Squamishtown @slrd_bc and the #BCWildfireService for accurate and real time information. #squamish #squamishfire pic.twitter.com/nH9KOSHKQg— Squamish RCMP (@SquamishRCMP) April 16, 2020
When Greg Hinds was driving through the Squamish Valley Road around midnight, he saw firsthand what the fire had done.
Hinds, one of the owners of the Cheekye Ranch out in the valley, was in the area to help round up some horses that had been left without a home.
Hinds will be using his property, which was spared from the flames, to help provide a home for animals that no longer have a place to stay.
As he drove by the smouldering grounds, he saw several structures had been destroyed.
At that point, there were patches that were still burning in the area, but the fire was no longer in full force, he recalled.
“It was all pretty much crisp down to blackened tree stumps,” said Hinds “There were still burning patches here and there.”
But the picture was clear.
“You can see that it didn’t take long to zip through that little section there,” he said.
He said he’ll be back trying to round up more stray livestock.
Definitions from Emergency Management BC
An Evacuation Alert —Prepare to leave homes/areas. During the Alert stage, residents should prepare for a potential evacuation by gathering the personal supplies and belongings required for a minimum of three days.
People must leave the specified area immediately. An order is mandatory. Citizens are to follow the designated evacuation routes and head to Reception Centres as announced by authorities.
As of noon today, most open burning is now prohibited throughout BC to reduce the likelihood of human-caused wildfires. This applies to all public & private land unless specified otherwise by a local government bylaw. For more info, visit: https://t.co/TjgBnsS970 #BCWildfire pic.twitter.com/XgrTjePNkA
— BC Wildfire Service (@BCGovFireInfo) April 16, 2020
Squamish meteorologist Jason Ross told The Chief the air quality is a three, according to Environment Canada data.
"So there is a little more particulate matter in the valley. There's definitely quite a bit of haze and ash falling," he told The Chief Thursday morning.
He said when the air quality gets into the sevens is when he starts to worry for human health.
"That is where you start limiting outdoor activities," he said.
In terms of the weather, there is "light outflow," north northeast at four kilometres an hour Thursday morning and higher humidity, sitting at 78%, Ross said.
The lower the humidity, the worse conditions are for a wildfire, he said.
Higher humidity is better for stifling the fire.
In the early morning, there was a dew, which is also a positive for fighting the fire, he said.
"The ground was quite cool. The temperatures were quite cool. That definitely helped," he said.
Gusty inflow winds are expected in the afternoon.
Inland winds may gust to the 20 kilometre range.
Inflow are winds that gust from south to north. Outflow is winds that blow north to south.
"In terms of the fire, it is concerning anytime you see gusty inflows with fire behavior," he said.
The high is expected to be 21 C.
More to come...