British Columbia

Sechelt chief blames tree-faller's death on lack of government action

The chief of the Sechelt First Nation says the government has not done enough to prevent fires from growing out of control near his community, where he describes the mood as "volatile."

Calvin Craigan calls on province to send water bombers to douse persistent fires

John Phare died battling a fire near Sechelt. His brother said he was close to his two stepchildren and a partner, and his loss has shaken the community where he was known to help to anybody. (Lonnie Phare)

The death of a tree-faller who was fighting a wildfire in Sechelt, B.C., has touched off a "volatile" mood in his fire-beleaguered community. 

Sechelt First Nation Chief Calvin Craigan, who grew up with tree-faller John Phare, 60, said the government has not done enough to prevent fires from growing out of control near his community.

"I believe that more effort by the government would have prevented that," said Craigan. "The fellow that was killed was a good friend of mine ... he was an elder volunteering ... We need to see more efforts in terms of loss of life like that."

A blanket of smoke and fear hangs over many B.C. communities with more than 182 fires continuing to rage, and air quality remaining poor. Lightning is being blamed for at least half of the 23 new fires touched off Monday with the biggest blazes just outside Pemberton, in the Elaho Valley and Boulder Creek. 

Many are urging the province to send in more water bombers, despite the high cost.

"Sure it's expensive, but this fire cost me a brother," said Lonnie Phare.

Craigan said fire crews from Cowichan, Terrace and Campbell River are being called in, to try to prevent the 100-hectare blaze from getting larger. He wants the provincial government to send in water bombers.

"One-hundred acres blowing up into 500 acres ... we don't want to see," said the chief, who reported the fire is now 40 per cent under control.

B.C. Forests Minister Steve Thomson said the tree-faller's death and the issue of whether enough resources were brought in will be investigated by WorkSafeBC.

'Still pretty smoky'

The Sunshine Coast Regional District has issued an evacuation alert for at least 18 seasonal residents.

Outflow winds from two major forest fires burning northwest of Pemberton are responsible for most of the smoke blanketing parts of B.C. (BC Wildfire Service)

In Pemberton, clouds of ash cast a different pall, as officials wrestle with whether to cancel a popular July 16-19 music festival that sees thousands pour into the valley. Pemberton Music Festival organizers are "all over" fire prevention using sprayers to keep things damp and policing campsites, assured Mayor Mike Richman.

"If the fires become more of a threat we certainly don't want to bring 30,000 extra people into the valley that might have to be evacuated," the mayor told CBC Tuesday morning. 

No rain relief in B.C. until next Tuesday

7 years ago
Duration 2:04
50 new fires ignited over the weekend, restrictions on open fires observed and some parks closed

"It's still pretty smoky. It's been kind of getting thicker since Sunday. You can smell it and you can taste it. It's a bit disconcerting."

Kevin Skrepnek​, chief fire information officer with the ​B.C. ​Wildfire M​anagement Branch, said there is one silver lining to all the clouds over B.C​.​

​ "Oddly enough [it] can help the situation a bit in that that smoke is reflecting a lot of the heat from the sun, so it's not actually reaching the ground and heating the ground to the same degree that it has been doing over the past few weeks."​

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