Skutz Falls fire 20 per cent contained

Helicopters instead of planes overhead mean crews can keep working on the ground.

The Skutz Falls fire is still burning but is 20 per cent contained, according to the Coastal Fire Centre.

“That’s on the lower flank,” said Fire Information Officer Marg Drysdale. “It’s burning up the slope but they have a containment line on the bottom,” she explained.

There are 61firefighters and officers working the ground and now five helicopters in the air working on the 10-hectare fire.

“It’s quite the airshow I’ve heard.”

Air tankers are on standby but are not in the air, Drysdale explained.

“When they have crews on the ground they don’t want to use air tankers because it means the ground crews have to pull back,” she said.

Tuesday night the Martin Mars water bomber made a total of six drops on the fire, which is roughly 10 kilometres east of Lake Cowichan.

According to Coulson Flying Tankers, the aircraft averaged drops of 21,600 litres for a total of 130,000 litres in about an hour and a half’s worth of work.

“The turn times averaged 15 minutes per drop which was excellent with some eight minute drop cycles,” said the company’s update. “As there were other aircraft working on the fire we had to allow them the time to get clear prior to each drop. It was an example of great teamwork, working in tandem with the other aircraft.”

***

Public doing its part to keep fires from sparking

The Skutz Falls fire is unique because while still rural, it’s closer to larger population bases than some of the wildfires elsewhere in the province, according to Coastal Fire Centre Fire Information Officer Marg Drysdale.

While she maintains that the flames shooting from the 10-hectare blaze are not an imminent threat to homes in the Lake Cowichan area, that no roads have been closed and no evacuation orders have been issued, Drysdale did say the proximity to people combined with the relative rarity of larger fires in the region does make for a lot of public interest.

“We haven’t had the fires other areas of the province have had over the years,” she said. “So people aren’t used to seeing fire on the landscape anymore, for the most part, and this is a highly visible fire and people can get to it and people can look at it.”

The public is doing its part not to start fires and that has helped, she said.

“People have been for the most part extremely cooperative, very careful and we are hoping to keep the number down. We’ve been just hammering home all the ways that people can help us out simply because that’s what makes a difference.”

But buckle up, citizens, because fire season is just beginning.

“It is hot, it is dry, it is only July,” Drysdale said. “And for Coastal, the fire season is generally the last two weeks of July and the month of August.”

***

Aircraft fill the sky to battle Skutz Falls fire

Skutz fireFirefighters from the BC Wildfire Service worked through the night to combat a Rank 4 (vigorous surface fire) blaze near the Lake Cowichan Highway at Skutz Falls turnoff.

The sky was still yellow and hazy when the sun rose Wednesday morning.

“It is still burning,” Coastal Fire Centre Fire Information Officer Marg Drysdale said of the fire believed to be at least 10 hectares (25 acres) in size.

“It will continue to burn for a while,” she said.

Lake Cowichan and Sahtlam Firefighters were called out about 5 p.m. Tuesday. Initial 9-1-1 calls had dispatchers and local crews wondering if there were actually two fires burning.

Investigation revealed the fire was just large enough to be seen from two different communities.

“The fire is burning on private forested land in slash (felled and bucked timber),” Drysdale said. “It is human caused and is under investigation.”

Cowichan Valley volunteer firefighters quickly realized what they were dealing with, the call went out to the BC Wildfire Service.

Within an hour aircraft were circling overhead.

“We had a lot of resources on it yesterday,” Drysdale said.

Resources on the fire include two initial attack crews of three firefighters each, airtankers — including the Martin Mars — two BC Wildfire Service response officers, 10 contract fire fighters, two medium helicopters, and three water tenders, Drysdale confirmed.

Three more helicopters and an excavator have also been called in and additional aircraft will be used as needed, according to the Coastal Fire Centre.

An industry representative and industry firefighters were also on scene both Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We’ve released the fire departments and we will be bringing in more of our crews and the landowner is also bringing in additional crews,” Drysdale said.

A BC Wildfire Service unit crew — a group of 20 firefighters trained for ground work — was en route Wednesday morning.

“There have been no road closures, despite the rumor and speculation that’s been going around,” Drysdale said. “The fire is not threatening homes at this time.”

No evacuation notices have been issued.

People are urged to use extreme caution in forested areas to ensure they do not start a wildfire. To report a wildfire or an open burning violation, call *5555 on a cellphone or 1 800 663-5555 toll-free.

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