Crews battle stubborn forest fire

Blaze near Ashcroft doubles to 250 hectares in record-setting heat

Against a perfect storm of high temperatures, low humidity, wind and tough terrain, firefighters struggled to slow the spread of a forest fire south of Ashcroft on Tuesday.

The Spatsum Creek fire - the largest blaze in the Kamloops Fire Centre at the moment - has been burning since April 27, but it doubled in size to 250 hectares in Monday's intense afternoon heat.

Conditions pushed the fire past a threshold late Sunday and additional personnel were brought in at that point. Sixty firefighters reinforced by three helicopters and air tankers were battling the flames on Tuesday afternoon as wind picked up again.

Ground crews were using hand guards to reinforce fire retardant dropped by the tankers. The fire remained a few kilometres from the Trans-Canada Highway in the Fraser Canyon.

"Some of the terrain is impossible for the crews," said Kayla Pepper, fire information officer in Kamloops. "They can't fight fire in areas where they can get entrapped."

Tuesday's wind didn't carry as much force as forecast, which helped suppression efforts, but the fire still spread in its southeastern and northeastern corners.

"It was 100 hectares before it started taking off again yesterday."

Campbell Hill Regional Airport near Cache Creek was pressed into service as an operations base.

While much of the terrain is steep and rocky grassland, Monday's wind caused candling into trees in upland forested areas.

There were two smaller wildfire sites closer to Kamloops on Tuesday. One, 19 kilometres south of town off Lac le Jeune Road, was in the mop-up stage at 10-12 ha when it flared up again.

"It popped up again and it's now 30 hectares in size."

Air-tanker drops knocked down the flames but there is a lot of fuel in the grass, she added.

Smoke from both fires reached Kamloops by late Monday.

At midday Tuesday, three smaller fires were reported near railway tracks in the vicinity of Monte Creek, visible from Hwy 97.

The cause of the Ashcroft fire has yet to be determined, but all other wildfires so far this season have a common denominator - they were started by human activity. That serves as a reminder for the public to be vigilant during the heat wave as the fire hazard rating climbs from moderate to high, Pepper said.

Wildfires can be reported at *5555 on cellphones or 1-800-663-5555 toll-free.

To date, 30 fires have burned 316 hectares in the Kamloops Fire Centre since the season began in mid-April. That compares with 44 fires that burned 223 hectares at the same time last year.

"We've burned more, but with fewer fires."

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