An edge of the wildfire along Nanaimo River Road on Tuesday morning. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Nanaimo Lakes wildfire growing, but crews gaining some containment

Fire now calculated at 160 hectares, firefighting efforts will continue overnight

UPDATE: The Nanaimo Lakes wildfire continued to grow Tuesday, but crews gained some containment.

The fire is now measured at 160 hectares and is 10 per cent contained, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service’s Coastal Fire Centre.

“The growth that we’ve seen today has occurred north towards Barsby Lake and also west towards Nanaimo Lakes,” said Natasha Broznitzky, fire information officer. “There was minimal growth towards Nanaimo and towards the east, so that’s good for us, that’s what we want, no growth towards the east.

As for the fire’s growth from 131 hectares to 160, Broznitzky said it’s not uncommon for fire growth to vary day by day.

“It depends on what the wind is doing, what fuel types the fire’s getting into, that sort of thing,” she said.

She explained that the containment comes when crews feel they have a containment line set up; however, with so much of the fire out of control, it’s always possible that a fire can make it through or around a containment line.

Broznitsky said crews and heavy equipment will continue firefighting efforts overnight.

EARLIER TODAY: Further evacuation orders or alerts are “not on the radar” right now for the regional district as an out-of-control wildfire continues to burn south of the city.

One residence and numerous campers were issued evacuation orders Monday night due to a 131-hectare wildfire in the Nanaimo Lakes area. Another 77 residences were placed on evacuation alert.

Bill Veenhof, Regional District of Nanaimo chairman, said he and RDN staff make the decisions around evacuation orders and alerts, but they come at the recommendation of B.C. Wildfire Service, and “I’m not going to second-guess them…

“That is based on their modelling of what the fire is doing. I can’t speak to their algorithms, but they came to a conclusion that this area’s at risk if the fire starts moving rapidly or becomes worse.”

Veenhof said it’s his understanding that the evacuation orders and alerts went smoothly in the area near the fire and hopes that would continue.

“If you are in an evacuated area, please take the order seriously because if you stay behind, all you do is endanger your life and then potentially the lives of first responders who have to go back to get you if things go badly,” he said.

The RDN website crashed after the evacuation order and alert were issued Monday night. Veenhof acknowledged the outage but said he doesn’t yet know the reason.

“It’s something that we are following up,” he said. “I don’t have the answer to that. Absolutely, if we can figure out what the cause was, we’ll address the cause.”

Veenhof said if further evacuation orders were to be issued, one or two reception centres would be opened in places that “make sense logistically,” but those locations won’t be disclosed until necessary.

“If you’re in an alert area, have a look at the recommendations that we made, which is think about having a pack-up-and-go kit and include your meds, your documents that are important, your photographs that you want to save; make sure you have a plan for your pets, that kind of thing,” he said.

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EARLIER TODAY: Additional firefighters are out in the Nanaimo Lakes area to battle a blaze that is still out of control.

B.C. Wildfire Service said Tuesday morning that 55 personnel are now at the location, along with six helicopters and heavy machinery. Air tankers were utilized yesterday and may be required again today, said Natasha Broznitsky, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre.

The fire was still at 131 hectares at last estimate.

Broznitzky said decisions to bring in more firefighters are made on a “case by case” basis.

“It depends on the level of fire activity, the type of terrain, how deep the fire’s burning, where the fire’s located…” she said. “It made sense to send about another 20 people and that’s probably a combination of the fact that it is still considered out of control and increased in size.”

She said the fire is generally moving in a northwest direction. She said hot weather can provide more available fuel for fires.

“Certainly it’s going to be hot for the firefighters working out there,” she said.

The fire grew from 50 hectares to 131 hectares on Monday and at 7:45 p.m. last night, the Regional District of Nanaimo declared a state of local emergency and issued evacuation orders and alerts for areas close to the fire. The RDN advised on social media Tuesday morning that those orders and alerts remain in place.

Nanaimo Fire Rescue isn’t fighting the fire, but has plans in place if the fire were to reach the department’s jurisdiction.

“As it approaches our boder, we work with Coastal Fire Centre and the regional district in planning for that,” said Timothy Doyle, deputy chief with Nanaimo Fire Rescue. “There’s things like mapping we can do, there’s things like pre-alerts that are done … but we’re just not there yet.”

Doyle said his department is working co-operatively with City of Nanaimo public works on a department operating centre.

“It’s where you’d have your high-level resources, your decision-making resources to support an incident if it does escalate,” he said.

He said Nanaimo Fire Rescue wants to get across “key safety messages.”

“It’s wildfire season and there’s a high risk right now, so be careful and don’t discard cigarette butts, don’t have open-flame fires, don’t have backyard burns, those kind of things,” said Doyle.

RELATED: Evacuation order issued due to out-of-control Nanaimo Lakes wildfire

RELATED: Fire in Nanaimo Lakes area now more than 100 hectares in size

More to come.

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