Crews plan controlled burns as Kimberley, B.C., remains under wildfire evacuation alert

Kimberley, B.C., remains under an evacuation alert for a second day as the Meachen Creek wildfire burns to the west.

Wind was working in firefighters' favour Saturday, fire information officer said

Kimberley, B.C., is under evacuation alert as a wildfires burn near the city. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Kimberley, B.C., remains under an evacuation alert for a second day as the Meachen Creek wildfire burns to the west.

About 7,400 people are on standby, waiting and wondering if they'll have to rush to pack up their belongings and leave their homes behind. An evacuation order already in place affects 65 homes in the nearby St. Mary's Valley.

Gusting winds had hastened the fire's spread through the tinder-dry forests earlier this week, but on Saturday, conditions were more favourable, with the wind actually blowing the blaze back onto itself, said fire information officer Carlee Kachman.

"What's happening with the fire right now is they are building guard and containment lines," Kachman said. "Once there aren't any fuels available for the fire to burn into, the fire dies down."

Kimberley, B.C., is under evacuation alert due to nearby wildfires, and nearby St. Mary Lake is under an evacuation order. Hundreds of fires are burning across B.C. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

Crews dug four-metre-wide firebreaks which were reinforced with retardant to try and contain the 5,685-hectare fire, and officials were assessing to see if conditions would allow for controlled burns to be done to reduce the amount of fuel available.

Officials said in a release that residents should expect increased smoke along with the controlled burns, which will likely take place tomorrow afternoon.

The community is fairly spread out, stretching along a windy highway that ends at a large ski hill and golf resort.

An evacuation alert sign is posted at the Kimberley Riverside Campground. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Laurel Unger is visiting Kimberley in her RV. She said the weather is a bit better than expected, but the city is muted. 

"It just looks like a hazy day to me ... but it's very, very quiet," she said.

Kimberley Mayor Don McCormick said it's important residents have their emergency kits ready to go in case the wind shifts.

"An evacuation alert doesn't mean we're in imminent danger, what it means is that you need to pack your emergency kit and pack for the next stage, should we get to that stage," he said.

Kimberley Mayor Don McCormick said residents should have emergency kits packed and ready to go. (Colin Hall/CBC)

McCormick said residents are used to wildfires in the area, but this one, which was caused by a lightning strike, is definitely too close for comfort.

"The smoke itself isn't foreign to us, what's different is the ash falling in town," he said.

On Friday, Interior Health said its staff has started evacuating patients from care homes in Kimberley as a precaution.

Resident Blaisse Shaw said she has her bags packed and ready to go in the case the evacuation alert becomes an order.

"I'm going to take some of my favourite art, a few little favourite trinkets, my Dad's ashes," she said.

More than 550 wildfires across B.C.

The smoke may be impacting Highway 93 South through Kootenay National Park. The road has been subject to frequent closures and traffic is now reduced to 50 km/h through the area of the Wardle wildfire.

More than 550 wildfires were burning across B.C. on Saturday, impacting air quality across western Canada. 

Near Kimberley, the Lost Dog fire complex was estimated at 700 hectares as of Saturday evening, with the smallest two fires in the complex being held.

About 436,000 hectares of forest have been consumed so far by the fires, said B.C. Wildfire Service chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek in an update conference call on Friday afternoon.

With files from Anis Heydari, Allison Dempster, Rhianna Schmunck, CBC British Columbia, The Canadian Press