Elephant Hill Fire in British Columbia grows to 194,000 acres

The fire has been burning near Cache Creek, BC since July 6, 2017.

Above: Satellite photo showing the location wildfires in British Columbia and Alberta, July 31, 2017. The red dots represent heat detected by the satellite.

(Originally published at 7:32 p.m. MDT July 31, 2017)

Currently there are many wildfires burning in British Columbia and Alberta. One of them is a megafire just east of Clinton, north and south of Cache Creek, and about 50 miles northwest of Kamloops. I’m not sure if it’s the Mother of All Fires, for this year anyway, but so far it has covered 78,548 hectares (194,096 acres). The BC Wildfire Service says that number is probably low, since the visibility has prevented them from conducting mapping flights for a day or two.

(More recent information about the Elephant Hill Fire and other fires in British Columbia was posted August 2, 2017.)

The recent warmer and drier weather has contributed to increased growth in recent days. On Sunday most of the spread was on the north and west sides.  The objective on the west flank is to remove excess fuel ahead of the fire, keep it south of the Bonaparte River, and slow the aggressive fire behavior. Night shift crews are working from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. to reinforce firelines.

Structure protection personnel, engines, and equipment are assigned 24 hours a day. They are working across the fire to conduct property assessments, establish sprinkler systems on structures, and protect values where needed.

Elephant Hill Fire map
Satellite photo showing smoke on the Elephant Hill Fire northwest of Kamloops, July 31, 2017. The red dots represent heat detected by the satellite.

The community of Clinton and areas to the northeast including Green Lake have been evacuated.

Resources assigned to the fire include 20 helicopters and 69 pieces of heavy equipment for a total of 359 firefighters.

The map below was current July 28, 2017.

Elephant fire map

Researchers study how the Fort McMurray fire ignited homes

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-5-00-06-pmA preliminary report report released by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction looked at how the 1,500,000-acre Fort McMurray Fire ignited some of the 2,400 structures in the Alberta city in May of this year.

Below are excerpts from the document.

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After evaluating the fire environment and clearances between homes and the forest edge, the investigator discounted direct contact from flames or radiant heat of the forest fire as being significant sources of home ignition at Fort McMurray. Instead, it was concluded that wind-driven embers were the most probable cause for the majority of early home ignitions in the zone where the fire made its transition from forest into urban neighbourhoods. Once established, the fire would have spread from structure to structure as an urban conflagration, accounting for the majority of home losses.

home ignition zone
NFPA

In all neighbourhoods studied, homes whose owners had adopted FireSmart guidelines survived much more frequently than homes where they had not, despite the extraordinarily harsh conditions.

Recommended FireSmart guidelines work. They are effective in reducing the probability of home ignition and wildfire losses. Home survival does not appear to be random or a matter of luck.

Home survival depends on conditions in the home ignition zone, for which owners are responsible.

While low total hazard rating is important, a single critical weakness can lead to home loss.

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Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Fort McMurrary Fire”.

South African firefighters reportedly asked to leave Canada

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and Alberta’s Premier, Rachel Notley are both intervening in an attempt to resolve the controversy.

A South African news agency, News24, is reporting that the 300 firefighters sent from their country to assist with the wildfires in Alberta have been asked by Canada to go home. The agency also reports that the firefighters are saying they will not leave until they receive the money they have been demanding.

Below is an excerpt from an article at News24:

Jenni Evans, News2

Cape Town – Canada has asked South Africa’s singing firefighters to go home after an internal pay dispute could not be resolved, Working on Fire said on Saturday.

”The Canadian government has asked us to get them out of Canada as soon as possible,” said Johan Heine, chairperson of the board of Working on Fire.

But Heine said the team has indicated that they will not leave until they receive confirmation that their pay demands will be met.

”They are demanding their money before they leave, and [that they] get confirmation that they get more money.”

”We all feel very terrible about it,” said Heine, who has been a firefighter for 30 years.

A Working on Fire management team arrived in Edmonton, Canada on Saturday morning and would travel with a South African embassy official to Alberta where they are based, to negotiate and pick a date for their return.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported online that Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley promised to intervene.

CBS quoted Notley as saying that it was not acceptable to her and her government that they would have people working for wages in that do not align with their labour laws.

She said every firefighter from South Africa or anywhere else would be compensated “in accordance with our laws in this province.”

The Peninsula, a Qatar newspaper, has a similar report.

South African firefighters in Alberta embroiled in pay dispute

The 300 firefighters that arrived in Alberta, Canada on May 29 to assist with the huge fire near Fort McMurray refused to work Wednesday over a dispute about their pay. When they were first deployed the Globe and Mail wrote:

After a month in Canada, they will take home the equivalent of about $1,500 each. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s 10 times more than their normal monthly stipend in the training program. It will help many of the firefighters to get out of shacks and build new brick houses, get driver’s licenses or enter postsecondary education.

Below is an excerpt from an article at CBCNews on Wednesday:

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“…Bitiro Moseki is one of the firefighters based at a camp north of Fort McMurray. He said they are being paid $15 a day.

“It’s fifteen not even per hour, it’s fifteen per day,” said Moseki.

While that may seem hard to believe, given that Alberta expects to move to a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2018, a contract thought to be between the firefighters and their employer seems to back up the claim.

It shows the firefighters signed a contract that stated they would be paid a total of $50 a day, split into two payments.

The contract agrees to pay them $15 a day now, with the balance of $35 a day paid out within six months of their return to South Africa.

Moseki agreed firefighters did sign the contract, but said they have since been unsettled by media reports claiming they’re making much more money.

He said news articles quoted the South African government program that employs the crews claiming the workers are making between $15 and $21 an hour.

“We are not here for money, we are here to assist you,” said Moseki, adding the firefighters have turned to the South African commissioner in Canada for help to resolve the issue.

The contract does make it clear the money the firefighters are being paid is over and above their home wages, which were not disclosed.

The provincial government confirmed the South African firefighters did not work Wednesday because of the pay dispute.

“We contract with the South African government based on a rate per day per firefighter,” Alberta Agriculture and Forestry said in a statement. “We’re paying the rate. It’s our understanding these firefighters are being paid what they agreed to before they arrived. But if there is a disagreement here, it’s between the firefighters and their employer and not with the Government of Alberta.”

The ministry said the firefighters are employed by the Government of South Africa…”

300 firefighters from South Africa arrive in Alberta

The 300 South African firefighters that were requested to help suppress the huge fire at Fort McMurray arrived in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada Sunday after a 24-hour journey. If their enthusiasm displayed upon their arrival at the Edmonton airport (below) is indicative of their productivity on the fireline, they will be a valuable resource.

The men and women were selected from 5,000 that have been part of the Working On Fire (WoF) program in South Africa. The government-funded organization changes the lives of unemployed South African youths by training them to become firefighters.

South Africa To Alberta map

In addition to the standard instruction they received in the WoF curriculum, the 300 chosen for the deployment went through a 10-day boot camp taught by Canadian trainers before they left Africa.

Below is an excerpt from an article at The Globe and Mail:

…With a shortage of water and specialized equipment here, the South African firefighters often use “firebeaters” – wooden sticks with a leather pad attached – to beat out a bush fire. But at their boot camp this month, the South Africans learned new water-handling techniques for the Canadian fires.

Those who were chosen for the latest mission are the fittest and most skilled of the 5,000 in the organization. After a month in Canada, they will take home the equivalent of about $1,500 each. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s 10 times more than their normal monthly stipend in the training program. It will help many of the firefighters to get out of shacks and build new brick houses, get driver’s licences or enter postsecondary education.

At a farewell ceremony on Saturday at their temporary camp near Johannesburg, the 300 firefighters danced and sang the morale-building songs that they sing daily in the bush. “We are confident, we are excited,” they sang in the Zulu language.

The firefighters were mostly recruited from rural areas with high unemployment. So as part of their final preparations before flying to Canada, they were given a two-day course in financial management, to help them avoid making mistakes with their limited wages.

“For them, just to get to an international airport is a life-changing experience,” said Llewellyn Pillay, managing director of Working on Fire. “To put them on a plane and send them to a foreign country fundamentally changes their lives.”

Animation of the spread of Fort McMurray Fire

This animation depicts the spread of the huge wildfire at Fort McMurray, Alberta, which is officially named the Horse River Fire. It has been burning for almost a month and has blackened 578,621 hectares. Or, if you are wondering how many square inches it has burned, it is almost 9 trillion.

Size Ft McMurray Fire 5-27-2016

The map below shows the perimeter of the fire and the fire danger in the Fort McMurray area, ranging from High to Extreme.

fire danger Fort McMurray area
Fire danger Fort McMurray area, Alberta.

There is a good chance for thundershowers in the area Friday through Sunday.