British Columbia·Updated

B.C. man finds dead fish downstream from jet fuel spill

Residents in B.C.'s West Kootenay region are sounding the alarm about the environmental impact of a jet fuel spill, after a tanker truck crashed into a tributary of the Slocan River.

Water restrictions remain for Lemon Creek, Slocan River and Kootenay River

Shoulder of road gave way under truck carrying jet fuel 2:21

Residents in B.C.'s West Kootenay region are sounding the alarm about the environmental impact of a jet fuel spill, after a tanker truck tipped over and spilled 35,000 litres into Lemon Creek.

Resident Sarosha Stockton says he found dead fish and jet fuel in the Slocan River on Saturday, some 24 hours after the spill.

A public meeting on the fuel spill is being held Tues. July 30 at 7 p.m in the Winlaw community hall. Officials from the Ministry of Environment, Interior Health Authority, Wildfire Management Branch and Executive Flight Centre will be in attendance to answer questions.

In a video he uploaded to YouTube, he points to a "rainbow of fuel" in a shallow pool in the water by the shore, as well as eight to 10 dead juvenile fish along a small stretch of the river.

An official with B.C.'s environment ministry confirms that consultants and contractors working to clean-up the spill in the Slocan Valley are finding dead fish along the shore.

Rick Wagner says the number of dead fish is a cause for concern, but tests must be done to determine if they died because of the fuel spill or some other reason.

Wagner says the Calgary company responsible for the spill is assessing damage, and may be required to restock the fish population if a significant number died as a result of the crash.

But Stockton says the authorities need to do more to protect the river.

"It's a tragedy," said Stockton, noting that there were no booms in the area where Lemon Creek flows into the Slocan River, only further downstream.

Stockton warned people to stay away from the river, saying the air was hard to breathe on Saturday because of a strong jet fuel smell. He also pointed out areas where the water appeared milky from potential jet fuel contamination.

The truck carrying jet fuel had been on its way to supply helicopters battling wildfires when it spilled into Lemon Creek. (CBC)

A tanker truck carrying jet fuel for helicopters fighting forest fires crashed into Lemon Creek on Friday. Almost all the fuel in the tanker, about 35,000 litres, spilled into the creek.

Residents in the area who were advised to leave their homes Friday night were told it was safe to return on Saturday afternoon. The evacuation zone affected about 1,500 people at one point.

Smell dissipating

In the nearby community of Passmore, a fire crew was out Sunday morning looking for fuel sheens and deposits, even though emergency staff say most of it has evaporated.

"So far we've checked the water a few times and we haven't seen any visible sign of anything," said Chief Gord Ihlen of the Passmore Volunteer Fire Department.

"The odd time the wind hits us, you can smell a little bit of something, but it's not as strong as it was yesterday," he added.

For now, residents who obtain their drinking or irrigation water from surface sources such as rivers and streams are asked to avoid doing so until further notice.

Resident Mike Sofonoff says he's confident the water will be safe to drink soon.

"That water's pretty swift.  It'll clean up within a couple of days," Sofonoff said.

Clean-up costs

The B.C. Environment Ministry says it will do a full ecological assessment of the river and water quality over the next few days.

A hazardous materials team from Vancouver has been sent to the area to work with local fire departments and other agencies to contain the spill in local waterways.

Meanwhile, the Calgary-based company that owns the overturned fuel truck, Executive Flight Centre, says it regrets its driver suffered minor injuries and that local residents were inconvenienced.

"Executive Flight Centre is very, very concerned about this incident and we definitely understand the inconvenience and frustration it has caused those people who evacuated in the area and we're going to do our best to make good on what we need to get done to satisfy B.C.'s environment ministry to bring the area back to normal," said Wayne Smook of Executive Flight Centre.

Smook says the driver has many years of experience with the company and was en route to provide the fuel to crews battling a forest fire.

"The reason why the accident occurred in the first place is that the shoulder on the road gave way, causing the truck to roll down the embankment and roll onto its side," he said.

The tanker and the truck have now been removed from the water, Smook says.

Smook says the company will be speaking with its insurers tomorrow, and is meeting with the environment ministry to determine a monitoring and cleanup plan.

Smook expects the initial cleanup to take another week or so, with long term monitoring taking place after that.

The province says Executive Flight Centre is responsible for cleaning up the 35,000-litre spill and related costs.

With files from the CBC's Dan Burritt and The Canadian Press