The Gustafsen smoke plume as seen on the first day of the fire. Pauline Weigelt photo.

Fire still too dangerous to check properties in 105, two lost in 108

At one home, firefighters were there before it was on fire, but it “drove them out of the driveway”

Property owners in 108 Mile Ranch who have not personally received a call from Cariboo Regional District Chair Al Richmond have not lost their homes.

Home owners in the 105 area may not have been so lucky. Richmond says there is damage in the area, particularly on some rural properties near Abel Lake Road and Lilypad Lake Road.

“The fire is too dangerous — as we were just talking about the volatility of the fire — for us to go in and do an accurate inventory,” he says.

Richmond was speaking to a crowd of evacuees in Prince George on July 13, giving updates on the current fire situation around the Cariboo Regional District.

He said only two properties were lost in the 108 Mile Ranch, and as far as he can see “virtually none, but there may be one to the east” were lost in the 103.

In the 105, he says current fire conditions have made it impossible to safely check what has been damaged and what hasn’t.

“When the fire department came in, they told me that one place they put a sprinkler up the fire passed through and the structure was still there. So we have to go and do inventory. We have to check the address. We have to check the legal owners and then we will contact them,” he says.

“We will not guestimate whether or not there has been a loss.”

The evacuation orders for the South Cariboo are among 18 around the CRD, covering a population just under 10,000 and an area of 10,856 km squared.

Under alert are 10,750 people over an area of 2,883 km squared.

“These fires are unpredictable. No one is keeping you out of your home because they want to do it. No one has issued an order or an alert because it’s fun. It’s serious business. No one signs a state of emergency without thinking about it because the powers that that gives people are incredible. It’s a difficult time for everybody.”

At the same meeting, Mark Hamm, Deputy Fire Centre Manager at the Cariboo Fire Centre suggested that Williams Lake residents could expect to see the evacuation alert they are living under expanded for several weeks.

“That’s likely to be there for several weeks. Because of the issues with dryness in the forest, our build up index and there is no significant precipitation projected within seven to ten days. Even if we get a good dump of rain that will only effect it temporarily. We have a really dry forest that we are going to have to live with all summer.”

Power has been turned back on in the 103, the 108 and Lac la Hache, which Richmond says is one of the first steps to allowing people back into their homes.

“Re-entry requires safety checks, so Hydro, because they’ve turned the power back on those communities, has been through and checked the infrastructure,” he says.

“Fortis called us today. When is our plan, when can we go back in and check our infrastructure. Telus wants to go in and check their infrastructure. We know that water is running at the 103, Lac la Hache and the 108, but those are the types of things that have to be done before we let people in. Highways has to assess the roads — do we have any problems — and those things will take time. How much time depends on whether we have more fires in these communities.”

While Richmond says they won’t force people out of their homes during an evacuation order, “in all likelihood we would have them sign a form, maybe ask for a DNA swab,” he always comes back to safety.

“One of the homes at the 108 that was destroyed, the fire department actually got there before the house was on fire, but the intensity of the fire with two fire trucks and all of the firemen drove them out of the driveway. They couldn’t fight the fire. It was that hot. They had to retreat.”

During the meeting, 100 Mile Mayor Mitch Campsall was emotional when he described signing the evacuation order for 100 Mile House.

Chair Al Richmond voiced a similar sentiment.

“When you think you are being kept out of your home and you are being disenfranchised, the people who are having the power to do that don’t take it lightly,” he says.

“It may sound great to go home, but realistically you are probably better off where you are.”