British Columbia

Clinton residents angered over controlled burn now raging out of control

Residents of Clinton in the B.C. Interior are accusing crews of recklessly setting control fires after a controlled burn quickly got out of hand Tuesday, jumping the highway and burning an entire mountainside and beyond.

Locals are accusing crew of recklessly setting control fires in conditions with high winds

Witnesses says a controlled burn set near Clinton, B.C., in high winds quickly got out of hand. (20 Mile Ranch)

Residents of Clinton in the B.C. Interior are accusing crews of recklessly setting control fires after a prescribed burn quickly got out of hand Tuesday, jumping the highway and burning an entire mountainside and beyond.

Local cattle rancher Greg Nyman said the fire, which was set by B.C. Wildfire personnel on the east side of Highway 97 near the Loon Lake Road junction, quickly turned into a "fire tornado vortex."

By Wednesday, it had forced an evacuation order for a large area to the southwest of Clinton.

'Bad call'

"It just went unbelievably wrong," he said. "The wind was blowing hard out of the northeast, and they were trying to burn to the northeast. I don't know what kind of magic they thought was going to happen.

"They dropped these firebombs from a helicopter which, in high winds, is inherently wrong if you ask me. The fuel down there, the dryness level and the winds — it was a bad call.

"It started burning so hard and so fast and sucking so much air that there was some firemen down there that basically drove away dragging their fire hoses. They couldn't even get their doors shut the wind was blowing so hard."

Smoke billows from the control fire that was started yesterday near Clinton. (20 Mile Ranch)

Wind shift?

B.C. chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek claims conditions were fine when the fire was ignited.

"Unfortunately, there was a pretty dramatic and unforecasted shift in the wind," he said. "So embers that had been drifting up were caught in that wind and blown west over onto the other side of Highway 97."

Skrepnek could not say how large the new fire is or when it will be contained.

"We're still working on that fire today. There hasn't been any loss of structure and infrastructure," he said.

'Beastly one'

But owners of nearby 20 Mile Ranch said they witnessed at least one hydro pole go up in flames. 

"It was about 15 minutes from the time they started until the hydro [transformer] on the big pole blew apart and maybe a few more minutes until it crossed west onto Highway 97," said a post on the 20 Mile Ranch Facebook page.

"This fire is now raging on another mountainside and it's going to be a beastly one to gain any control on."

Clinton resident Katie McCullough told CBC News this isn't the first time a prescribed burn in the area has gone out of control.  

"I believe there's been several," she said. "I just think all common sense has been thrown out the door. They should be lit when conditions are ideal."

McCullough said a wildfire burned through her family's farm two days ago, but luckily no buildings were lost.

"Our question is, who is making these decisions to do one back burn after another in horrible conditions?"

Nyman said the new fire has him fearing for the worst.

"In my estimation, the fire they started yesterday on the west side of the highway is going to end up being as big as the Elephant Hill fire," he said.

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