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West Kootenay man spends 24 hours fighting wildfire with plastic bag

Nelson resident douses wildfire near Duncan Lake
Craig Luke used this plastic bag to put out a wildfire near Duncan Lake. Photo: Craig Luke

Craig Luke has discovered a new firefighting tool — a zip-top plastic bag.

While maybe not the best piece of equipment, it was all Luke had on hand when he spotted a smouldering ground fire near Duncan Lake on July 25.

Luke had headed out that day on his motorcycle to look at some of the places a person could explore from main roads and logging roads while avoiding the backcountry during dry conditions.

“Out in the middle of nowhere,” Luke says he noticed a smouldering patch of ground. “The odds of someone else finding that fire were pretty slim.”

With no cell service and no one else around, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Luke dumped the contents out of the five-litre plastic food bag he had packed for the trip and headed for the lake.

It took about 12 minutes to get to the lake and back to the fire. After six trips, the fire seemed out, so Luke set up his hammock and took a well-deserved nap.

Several hours later, he woke to the smell of smoke.

The original spot was smoking again as were several other spots nearby.

Luke says the fire appeared to be following the root system of tree, which was now also smoking.

The tree was partially hollow and covered in carpenter ants, but still had some green foliage. Smoke was pouring out from holes as high as eight feet up in the tree. Luke says the back side of the tree looked like a fire pit — a hollow space filled with glowing coals.

At this point, Luke’s trips to the lake no longer took 12 minutes as he began to run there and back.

“I gave it everything I could and tried to turn everything into mud,” he said. “I was working up a pretty good sweat.”

He poured water into the base of the tree, and using his water bottle poured water into the holes as well.

After about 40 or 50 more trips, Luke thought the fire was finally under control again.

Since he had his gear and was planning on camping anyway, Luke set up camp near the fire and spent the night.

All night long, Luke set his alarm to go off every hour so he could check on the fire.

By 11 a.m. the next day, he felt confident enough to leave the site and head back towards cell service.

Luke had a GPS inreach device with him and says if things got out of control, he would have had the ability to call 911. The device also enabled him to give the exact GPS coordinates of the site to fire officials.

He’s happy that he was able to stop the fire before it joined the ranks of the many large fires burning throughout the province right now.

Luke says a big lesson from the experience is never to underestimate a ground fire.

“I was in the right place, at the right time and I had the time to do it,” Luke said.

“It was incredible to see. Scary, but incredible.”


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The fire kept spreading under ground. Photo: Craig Luke
Craig Luke was afraid he was going to lose the battle when he spotted smoke pouring out from this tree. Photo: Craig Luke
Craig Luke used a water bottle to pour water into a burning tree. Photo: Craig Luke
The fire when it was first spotted by Craig Luke. Photo: Craig Luke
Craig Luke put out a wildfire near Duncan Lake with a plastic bag. Photo: Craig Luke

Betsy Kline

About the Author: Betsy Kline

After spending several years as a freelance writer for the Castlegar News, Betsy joined the editorial staff as a reporter in March of 2015. In 2020, she moved into the editor's position.
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