Controlled burn causes panic in fire-ravaged Cariboo

A controlled burn near 70 Mile House, B.C., on Wednesday caused residents to sound the alarm after enduring the province's worst wildfire season in history last year.

Residents took to social media to voice concern over flames near 70 Mile House

Residents took to social media on Wednesday to voice their concern over a controlled burn happening near 70 Mile House, B.C. (Sharon Meyer)

A controlled burn near 70 Mile House on Wednesday caused panic among some Cariboo residents who lived through B.C.'s worst wildfire season in history last summer.

Sharon Meyer and Vern Johnson of 100 Mile House were driving on Highway 97 when they noticed large flames on the side of the road and entered a wall of smoke.

"I don't think you could see 50 feet because of the smoke," Johnson told CBC Radio West's Sarah Penton. "That was the dangerous part of it all."

At first they suspected a structure fire, but as they approached, they saw the fire was burning piles of wood logs, and they said it looked like it was going up into the trees.

Turns out it was a controlled burn on private land of slash piles of wood and debris.

"It was venting properly earlier, but what happened was the wind picked up later in the day and changed direction and blew smoke across the highway," said 70 Mile House fire chief Lee Lundy, who was called to the site.

Lundy said people were phoning the fire department and reacting to the flames on social media.

"They all figured it was another forest fire and panic was setting in like you wouldn't believe."

Panic after 2017 wildfires

Johnson and Meyer were both evacuated from their homes for more than two months during the summer of 2017. They were worried about the possibility of another wildfire.

"It gives you a panic moment in the beginning for sure," Meyer said. "We know there could be some fires still smouldering underground."

Meyer said she was surprised and angry to see that someone was burning debris.

"[We were] wondering what was going on and why someone would light a fire now," she said.

Lundy said that because of the snow on the ground, now is the perfect time for people to be burning.

"If you've got crap on your property that needs to be disposed of, you have to do it while there's snow on the ground," he said. "This property being cleaned up now, there wasn't an issue. The only issue was smoke and visibility on the highway."

With files from Sarah Penton