Wildfire emerges from hibernation near Telegraph Creek, B.C.

The devastating Alkali Lake wildfire smouldered underground through the winter. 'Once it gets presented with the right weather conditions, it can re-emerge — and that's what we are seeing here,' a fire official said.

Devastating Alkali Lake fire continued to smoulder underground through the winter, officials say

Telegraph Creek, B.C., was evacuated for several months last year as wildfire crews battled the Alkali Lake fire. The fire has re-emerged in some spots after smoldering underground through the winter. (Tahltan Emergency Operations Centre)

Last year's devastating wildfire in and around Telegraph Creek, B.C. was never fully extinguished — and firefighters are now back in the area, dealing with its re-emergence in spots.

Carolyn Bartos, a fire information officer with B.C.'s Wildfire Service, describes these "holdover" fires as being under control, with no threat of spreading.

"An over-wintering fire occurs when a wildfire that burns deep into the ground continues to smoulder all winter," she said.

"So, kind of like picturing your woodstove that's dampered really, really low, and once it gets presented with the right weather conditions, it can re-emerge — and that's what we are seeing here."

The Alkali Lake wildfire burned for months last year, resulting in a 102-day evacuation order in Telegraph Creek that wasn't lifted until November. The fire destroyed more than 20 homes and dozens of other structures in and around the community, including the daycare and a residence for nurses. 

After the evacuation order in Telegraph Creek was lifted in November, new mobile homes were installed for residents to move back. The Alkali Lake wildfire destroyed more than 20 homes and dozens of other structures in and around the community. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Bartos says there are now five small holdover fires burning in the area, with the closest about four kilometres south of Telegraph Creek.  

"It is reported from a homeowner, who says she's kind of intermittently seen this fire smoke throughout the winter. It's not a forest fire per se, but there was heat detected with the infrared scanner," she said.

Wildfire crews typically do aerial scans of areas that have been affected by large wildfires, looking for any "potential hotspots," according to Bartos.

"These scans will keep happening, there will be overview flights continuously happening," she said.

'Everybody's on high alert'

Nine firefighters have been stationed in nearby Dease Lake since last week, dealing with the reported holdover fires.

Tahltan Band Council Chief Rick McLean says the area has seen holdover fires before, but the conditions seem more conducive to them now.

Chief Rick McLean of the Tahltan Nation, centre, at a public briefing last summer on the fire situation around Telegraph Creek. (Phillipe Morin/CBC)

"The water table is lower and lower and it's allowing the fires to smoulder in those peat bogs all winter," he said.

McLean said people in Telegraph Creek are bracing for another potentially bad summer.

"We're looking at another really dry season, so everybody's on high alert and anxieties are high, and we're very cautious and worried," he said from Burns Lake, B.C., where he was speaking at a conference on wildfire resilience.

McLean said he urged other communities at the conference this week to ensure they have emergency plans in place, and that residents are ready for any evacuation.

"Prepare, prepare, prepare," he said.

With files from Philippe Morin


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