A quiet, lakefront community in southeastern British Columbia was watching the weather closely Tuesday as a fast-growing wildfire has prompted evacuation alerts for more than 1,000 properties, including a ski resort, just west of town.
The sight and smell of smoke hung over Invermere, B.C., throughout the day, despite cooler weather and a sprinkling of rain in the afternoon. The Horsethief Creek fire is burning in the mountains 10 kilometres west of Invermere and seven kilometres north of the Panorama Mountain Resort.
“It’s very worrisome,” said Karyn Richardson, holding her granddaughter’s hand as they walked down Seventh Avenue. “We have a go bag ready, just in case.”
Mark Sharpe, who lives about five kilometres from Mt. Bruce, where the fire is located, said it grew quickly due to hot, dry, windy weather. After it was first spotted Monday afternoon, the fire burned three square kilometres in less than 24 hours. But Sharpe, who has been watching closely, says it appeared to hold overnight.
“All in all, with the wind heading north, I don’t think this fire moved much overnight,” he told Radio West host Sarah Penton.
“I think everything’s feeling pretty safe,” he said.
The B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS) said crews have had trouble determining the exact size of the fire because of the thick smoke and challenging flying conditions.
Invermere is not included in the evacuation alerts or orders. People walking through the community Tuesday said the fire had improved from Monday when flames and thick smoke were seen billowing up from the hill. The fire glowed an unnerving shade of orange as night fell, one couple said.
Mayor Al Miller said neighbours jumped to help ranchers move their horses and cattle to safety as the fire grew.
“It’s certainly looking very smoky,” he told host Chris Walker on CBC’s Daybreak South Tuesday morning. “It was pretty scary for a lot of people.”
He said it’s been at least a decade since the community has seen a fire such as this.
“A fire this visible and this close? It’s been years,” said Miller, who’s lived in Invermere for 35 years.
The Regional District of East Kootenay ordered evacuations late Monday for 25 properties and several recreation sites.
The same blaze has also prompted evacuation alerts for people on more than 1,000 other properties, including the resort, meaning they should be ready to leave on short notice.
Concerning fires near Cranbrook, Sparwood
To the south, the BCWS said the St. Mary’s River fire outside of Cranbrook saw little to no growth on Monday. That wildfire prompted an evacuation alert for more than 670 properties this week, as well as an evacuation order for 51 more.
Seven families in nearby ʔaq̓am lost their homes to the wildfire on July 17.
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The Lladnar Creek wildfire, which was first detected near Sparwood — about 120 kilometres southeast of Invermere — last Friday, has charred 1.5 square kilometres of land, according to the BCWS.
The fire prompted the District of Sparwood to issue evacuation alerts for approximately 500 properties on Matevic Road and in Sparwood Heights over the past two days, according to Sparwood Mayor David Wilks.
Wilks said many Sparwood residents are worried because the fire seemed to be quickly approaching the town Tuesday morning due to strong winds.
“What I’m trying to just tell people is stay calm, be prepared to pack up things that you think that are precious to you that you want to take with you, and if an evacuation order does come down, you’re ready to go,” he told CBC’s Daybreak South.
Strong winds are also also complicating firefighting efforts both around Invermere and at the St. Mary’s River wildfire near Cranbrook, about 67 kilometres west of Sparwood.
But the wildfire service says control lines are holding on the 41-square-kilometre Cranbrook-area blaze, although evacuation orders and alerts are still posted.
Ross Moore Lake fire doesn’t threaten roads yet: BCWS
South of Kamloops, officials say cooler weather and a trace of rain helped calm the 26-square-kilometre Ross Moore Lake wildfire, but flames have claimed at least one remote cabin, while more than 300 properties remain under evacuation order.
BCWS information officer Mike McCulley said the Ross Moore Lake fire has grown, but it isn’t threatening the Coquihalla Highway and other roads and infrastructure.
“We’ll be working to make sure we have the right resources on the fire to try to keep it from getting much larger,” McCulley said in Kamloops Tuesday morning.
Erika Thorson-Connolly, who owns a ranch in Knutsford, says she’s cautiously optimistic about the Ross Moore Lake fire, as it’s now moved past her property.
“We’re feeling relieved at this point, but it’s the wind still could change, and it still could come back.”
Early Tuesday, the wildfire service was reporting almost 470 active fires across B.C., most caused by lightning, with 264 ranked as out of control.
Almost 15,000 square kilometres of land has burned this year, surpassing the record set at the end of the 2018 wildfire season.