Janet Michael has been living “on a knife’s edge” as the Sparks Lake wildfire moves toward her home.
On Tuesday (Ju;y 13), the Thompson-Nicola Regional District issued an evacuation order for 119 properties between Savona to the west, Frederick to the east and Red Lake to the north as wildfire activity in the vicinity is threatening structures.
Michael, who lives southeast of Red Lake on Meadow Road, told KTW she and her boyfriend are packed and ready to leave, but were waiting for her cat to show up before heading out.
Until now, the area has been on evacuation alert, Michael said, noting she was prepared to leave, but didn’t believe an evacuation order would come to fruition.
“And now I’m going and it’s really stressful and really sad,” Michael said, noting her garden and fruit trees may be dead by the time she can return.
“It’s so dry up here. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s definitely a drought,” she said.
Michael will stay at her boyfriend’s place in Kamloops.
“The time between the alert and when you actually get the evacuation, that’s kind of stressful,” Michael said.
She estimated there are about 35 residences in her subdivision under evacuation order, all of which, including her own, are acreages. She said while some residents left earlier, and others are going now, some of her neighbours are not planning to leave.
“But I’m going to go because it’s too stressful to stay when you know the fire is headed your way,” Michael said.
According to the BC Wildfire Service, the blaze — which is believed to have been human-caused — has now burned to the west side of Red Lake.
Michael’s home is about 16 kilometres from the Red Lake boat launch on the east side of the lake.
Fire information officer Hannah Swift told KTW the Sparks Lake fire is spreading in a southeast direction and has grown from its previously estimated 40,267 hectares, but by how much was unclear on Tuesday afternoon due to smoky conditions.
Swift said control lines in the Red Lake area, where the fire was very active on Monday, were breached by the fire and crews were patrolling the eastern flank, from Criss Creek to the Frog Lake area, on Tuesday to extinguish flames that have moved beyond the perimeter.
Swift said the Sparks Lake fire on Monday was most active in the Frog Lake area, east of the blaze’s perimeter and north of Red Lake.
Though the fire is heading eastward, toward Kamloops, she noted areas such as Kamloops Airport and Tranquille on the Lake are not now under threat. The TNRD will issue evacuation alerts and orders when necessary.
Steve Barnes and his wife live in Frederick, where they usually spend five months of the year, the rest of the time being used to travel.
Frederick is a recreational community on the north side of Kamloops Lake, opposite Tobiano. It is accessed by water or by private road by those who have contracted that right.
Barnes said there are 32 properties above he CN tracks were subdivided in 1960, before which the acreage was a tomato plantation,
He said there are six principal residents in four principal homes, noting the community is off the grid — using solar power and wind turbines.
Barnes told KTW they left the community on Monday, the day before the evacuation order, to attend to an appointment in Vancouver.
As of Monday, Barnes said they had been smoked in, like Kamloops, but no flames from the Sparks Lake fire had been seen.
His address in Frederick is inside the evacuation order boundary, so he and his wife will be staying in the Lower Mainland for the time being.
Barnes said an average drive from Frederick to the Kamloops Airport, where residents collect their mail, is about 20 minutes. Distance covered is 20 kilometres along Frederick Road and Tranquille Road.
Under an evacuation alert, residents are warned they need to be ready to leave on short notice, whereas under an evacuation order, the are at risk and warned to leave immediately.
There are 125 firefighters, 10 helicopters and 58 pieces of heavy machinery being employed as of Tuesday. There are also 29 structure protection personnel working along the western and eastern flanks, checking on sprinkler systems, cabins and other structures and fuel management in the area.
Michael remains hopeful the fire won’t reach their homes, but noted a BC Wildfire Service liaison told her there aren’t enough personnel to inform them in person or by phone that they need to evacuate. Michael said she found out online about the evacuation order, but pointed out some of her neighbours aren’t on Facebook or do not have an Internet connection.
“If someone doesn’t come to their gate, they won’t know,” Michael said, noting she learned of the order via the TNRD website. “Just think of how stretched the personnel now is in British Columbia.”
According to the BC Wildfire Service website, there are 307 wildfires burning around the province, with three of note near Kamloops — Sparks Lake, Embleton Mountain and Durand Lake.
The Embleton Mountain wildfire is still estimated at 466 hectares in size and is burning upslope, away from Whitecroft and Sun Peaks, Swift said. Its cause remains under investigation.
There are 132 properties under evacuation orders and 170 others on evacuation alerts. All properties in Sun Peaks are also on an evacuation alert and the Heffley-Louis Creek Road is closed to visitors due to the fire.
There were 34 firefighters and 16 structure protection personnel working on the fire on Tuesday. Heavy equipment was in the area as well, establishing fire control lines on the McLure Forest Service Road northeast of the fire and on the Mount Embleton Trail top the southwest. A guard line was also being worked on from Whitecroft to the gravel pit on Tod Mountain Road, while two helicopters were bucketing water in areas of steep terrain where ground crews cannot reach.
As for the Durand Lake wildfire, 28 kilometres south of Kamloops, there has been no growth seen on the 277-hectare fire though it remains burning out of control. As of Tuesday, there were 12 firefighters and four helicopters working to control the lightning-caused fire.