by Laura Keil

Air quality in Valemount has reached new lows as forest fires burn around the community. So far only one dwelling is under evacuation alert (an alert prepares residents for the possibility of an evacuation order), the Canadian Mountain Holidays’ Cariboo Lodge in the Canoe Valley. /ANDRU MCCRACKEN

Air quality in the Robson Valley contained dangerous levels of particulate last weekend as several fires near Valemount burned.

Between Aug 9th and 10th, the Dave Henry Drainage fire alone more than tripled – from 165 ha to 600 ha – and is now a Fire of Note (600 ha is 6 km2). The fire on Mt. Mckirdy continues to burn and a fire 55 km down the East Canoe Forest Service Road is now estimated at 660 hectares in size. All three fires started during lightning storms at the end of July.

A fire in the Hugh Allen Drainage, located about 60 km south of Valemount on Kinbasket Lake, was discovered Aug 6th and is now estimated to have burned 10,000 ha.

The air quality particulate rose to more than 200 “µg/m3 Friday evening, and more than 300 “µg/m3 on Saturday. The 24hr average on Friday and Saturday was over 100 “µg/m3 (The BC government sets its air quality target at no more than 25 “µg/m3 over 24 hours).

Some 14 firefighters, four pieces of heavy equipment, and one helicopter are battling the Dave Henry fire. The Wildfire Service said water tenders were being used successfully on the south flank of the fire to prevent it from moving west.

The Mckirdy Mountain wildfire remains at an estimated 35 hectares. The fire is burning up the mountain in steep terrain which is challenging crews, but the east and west fire guards are containing it, the Wildfire Service says.

A fire at 55 km on East Canoe Forest Service Road is an estimated 660 hectares. The Wildfire Service said last week that skimmers were helping support dozer guard along the south and west flank to keep the fire from affecting the main East Canoe Forest Service Road. BC Wildfire Information Officer Amanda Reynolds says 28 firefighters are on scene at the fire at 55 km being supported by 4 pieces of heavy equipment and 2 helicopters. The fire was 40% contained as of Tuesday.

“Crews are making good progress on the fire, they have secured the south flank and are currently working on establishing machine guard on the NW and NE Flanks,” Reynolds told the Goat on Tuesday.

The Hugh Allen fire is still 0% contained, but rain earlier this week helped calm fire activity, Reynolds said.

The Hugh Allen fire is still in Monitor-only status due to the steep terrain and safety concerns for fire crews.

On Sunday, the BC Wildfire Service restricted public access to Crown Land in the vicinity of the Hugh Allen Creek wildfire.

This area restriction begins at the 21 km mark of the East Canoe FSR but the road is open from 0 km to 21 km. The public is not permitted to pass the Valemount Marina on the East Canoe FSR.

The restriction is put in place to protect public safety due to the wildfire’s rate of spread and to avoid interference with fire control activities, the Wildfire Service says and will remain in place until Sept. 15, 2018, or until rescinded.