British Columbia

Shambhala festival back on after wildfire prompted early closure

Organizers say the Shambhala Music Festival is back on after initially announcing its cancellation Saturday afternoon due to a nearby wildfire.

Festival organizers reverse course after telling 15,000 attendees to go home a day early

About 15,000 attendees were told Saturday to pack up and leave a day early after an evacuation alert was expanded to include the festival grounds, near Salmo in B.C.'s southern Interior. (CBC)

Organizers say the Shambhala Music Festival is back on after initially announcing its cancellation Saturday afternoon due to a nearby wildfire.

About 15,000 attendees were told to pack up and leave a day early after an evacuation alert was expanded to include the festival grounds, near Salmo in B.C.'s southern Interior.

But shortly before noon on Sunday, organizers reversed their decision, announcing that the festival would continue for its final day.

Festival owner and founder Jimmy Bundschuh said an overnight change in the weather lead to the decision to resume the festival.

"Yesterday was 35 degrees, the winds were coming from the south, so [there was] potential to push [the fire] towards the festival site," Bundschuh said.

"[But] it started raining first thing this morning and it's been raining all day [and] it's about 18 degrees."

The B.C. Wildfire Service says the McCormick Creek wildfire, to the southwest of the festival site, is now 387 hectares in size and 15 per cent contained, but that there was no significant growth overnight. The festival grounds still remain under an evacuation alert, and the Nelway area to south remains on evacuation order.

Many attendees already gone

Organizers don't have exact numbers as to how many of the estimated 15,000 attendees left early, but Bundschuh said many people began leaving Saturday night, and more continued to stream out Sunday morning.

RCMP also did not have exact numbers, but said those who have decided to leave early are doing so in an orderly manner.

Bundschuh said attendees have been understanding about the cancellation and subsequent reversal — for the most part.

"It's only a party, right? Nobody wanted to be put at risk to be out here ... so when we made the call, people were very understanding and accepting of that call," he said.

"[But] obviously it's difficult to be told one thing and then be told the opposite, so it's been a bit of an emotional roller coaster."

Bundschuh said the festival's vendors were very happy about the decision to continue, as the last day and morning is when they generally start to turn a profit.

'We were all halfway home'

Festival-goer Nicholas Field said communication from organizers was timely and effective throughout the festival, except for the rescinding of the cancellation.

Field said that, after learning of the cancellation on Saturday afternoon and again Sunday morning, he left the festival grounds around 9 a.m. in the pouring rain, only to find out hours later that the festival was still going ahead.

"For me and probably thousands of other people who left early ... it was already too late. We were all halfway home," he said.

With files from Rhianna Schmunk.

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