Smoke rises from the Blackwater River Fire, as seen from Nazko Road on Aug. 21, 2018. Heather Norman photo

Incident commander: Narcosli Creek Fire no. 1 priority

The Observer sat down with incident commander Reg Trapp to discuss the Baezaeko Complex fires

The commander of the incident management team (IMT) working on the Baezaeko Complex fires says the fires have been prioritized to help determine the resources allocated to them.

Reg Trapp, the incident commander, says the Narcosli Creek Fire is the Baezaeko Complex’s number one priority, while the Blackwater River Fire is second, the North Baezaeko Fire is third and the Shag Creek Fire is fourth. The Narcosli Creek Fire is close to Quesnel, with the largest population in the area, which is why containing this fire is the first priority. The Blackwater Fire is second due to its proximity to Nazko, while the North Baezaeko Fire is the third priority because with the right winds, it could move toward Nazko and the Blackwater River Fire. The Shag Creek Fire is currently the fourth priority.

Trapp says that it’s about a four-hour drive through Vanderhoof to reach the Shag Creek Fire, and resources are already stretched thin. “Unfortunately, it’s because of its isolation and the difficulty getting there, logistically. I understand that there are people there, but there are more people on these three [fires] that have potential impacts, so [Shag Creek] is unfortunately our fourth priority in this group of fires under the complex.”

He says they’re also short on helicopters between the three fires near Quesnel and Nazko, which makes it even more difficult for them to go out to the Shag Creek Fire “in any big way.”

When the structural protection specialists currently working on Nazko Road north of the Blackwater River Fire are finished in the area, and they know how many structural protection assets they have left, Trapp says they’ll be sent out to the Shag Creek Fire to address some of the properties out there. “The [Cariboo] Fire Centre is aware [of what’s going on], and if they can provide some help, they certainly will,” says Trapp.

To the northwest of the Blackwater River and the North Baezaeko Fires, the Chutanli Lake Fire is also creeping into the Quesnel Fire Zone. Trapp says he’s in touch with the incident commander working on that fire, as well as the Prince George Fire Centre, to co-ordinate efforts and stay up-to-date with its status.

Evacuation orders

When evacuation orders are issued, there are often, perhaps inevitably, those who wish to stay behind and protect their property.

But when people choose to stay behind in an evacuation order, they risk not only their own lives, but the lives of the first responders as well.

Trapp says he understands the desire that people have to stay behind, but that evacuation orders are only given when there is a real risk to the population. Evacuation orders aren’t just executed because of fire activity, but also when the access to a community is threatened. This often happens when there’s only one way out of a community or area, and the fire poses a threat to that route. Trapp says a number of factors are considered before evacuation orders and alerts are issued.

He emphasized his concern not only for the safety of the individuals who choose to stay in an evacuation zone, but also the safety of the first responders.

For example, a few nights ago the Blackwater River Fire experienced a bit of a blow out, says Trapp. “We had to send folks into the evacuation order to check if people were still there, and they were. That puts the safety of our responders at risk.

“And if the circumstances would have been a little different, where we weren’t able to get in there by vehicle or the routes were blocked, then some very bad things could happen. So I would always encourage people to follow the evacuation orders and alerts. We don’t do those willy-nilly. There’s serious thought put in to those things, and it’s really based on safety.”

READ MORE: A comprehensive look at evacuation orders, alerts and fires in the Quesnel Fire Zone, Aug. 11

Mapping the fires

Over the last week or two, many of the fires in the complex went several days without a change in size. This is not necessarily because the fires were not growing, but because the smoke made it too thick for helicopters to take to the skies.

“Our helicopter fleet was basically grounded over the last several days,” says Trapp. It wasn’t until Sunday that they were once more able to fly above the fire and see what’s going on.

When helicopters are grounded, those fighting the fires lose the big picture: from the ground, it’s impossible to know everything that a fire is doing. When the helicopters were allowed to fly again, the first order of business was not to map the fires, but to see if their resources were still in the best locations to fight the fires. First, they need to see what the fire is doing, address the current location and activity of their ground resources, and then adjust as necessary. Once that’s done, says Trapp, they can get to mapping the fires.

As long as the air stays clean, the helicopters will fly, he says. “We want the maps as much as anybody else. That’s one of our main planning tools, so if we have clear air, there will be better updated maps.”

Going forward

With the cold front that moved in on Aug. 22, Trapp says they’re expecting more erratic winds. He says that although the Blackwater River and North Baezaeko Fires both have some guards around the perimeter, they are not contained and there is some concern they could jump the guard lines.

Over the next several days, they will be conducting controlled burns on the Blackwater River and North Baezaeko Fires (along with a major burn operation which tool place Tuesday, Aug. 21, at the Narcosli Creek Fire). The goal of the burns is to bring the fires back to their containment lines. He says people should be aware that they will be seeing extra smoke, but it isn’t due to increased fire activity.

“If we’re successful,” says Trapp, “we can get a lot of containment fairly quickly.”

VIDEO: How an IMT works – Black Press visits firefighter camp near Quesnel


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