Parks Fire burns from Washington into British Columbia

Multiple fires close to the Pacific Crest Trail lead to closure of its northern terminus

2:10 p.m. PDT Sept. 3, 2022

Parks Fire map Washington British Columbia
Parks Fire map 3:02 a.m. PDT Sept. 3, 2022.

The spread of numerous fires have led to the closure of the northernmost portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) including its terminus at the Canadian border. Most northbound hikers finish in August or September, so it is likely that quite a few will be devastated that they can’t complete the entire 2,650-mile journey.

The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest posted the following message on Facebook September 1:

Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Closure:
Due to increased fire activity and growth, the Kid Fire is now about three miles from the PCT. With the Red Flag Warning in effect through tomorrow evening, we have closed the northern section of the PCT from Holman Pass North (at the junction with Trail #752 and Trail #472.1) to the Canadian Border. Wilderness Rangers are on the PCT near Hopkins Lake basin and Forest Service staff at Harts Pass Guard Station are helping direct hikers and providing information. There is no re-route at this time. Please stay tuned for more information.

Since that message was posted the Parks Fire has grown very rapidly into Canada. We were unable to find any public details posted by the US Forest Service about it and other fires in the area, but we estimate it has burned at least 5,000 acres. It is the largest near the northern terminus of the PCT between mileposts 2,637 and 2,652. To the west are the Three Fools, Skagit, Elbow, and Shull Creek Fires. The Parks and Kid Fires are east of the trail.

We have counted 9 fires in Washington that are within 11 miles of the international border.

Parks Fire Washington and British Columbia
Parks Fire. Posted Sept. 2 by USFS.

The Parks Fire has spread four miles north of the border and early Saturday morning was a mile or two east of Manning Park, BC just south of BC Highway 3.

None of these fires, including the 5,000+ acre Parks Fire, were listed on Inciweb, the National Situation Report, or the Northwest Geographic Area’s public Morning Brief or Detailed Situation Report when we published this article just after 2 p.m. PDT Sept. 3, 2022.

Fires near the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail,
Fires near the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail, September 3, 2022. The purple line is the PCT.

Making a decision about a proposed planned ignition on a wildfire

How it was done on the Connell Ridge Fire in British Columbia

Evaluating a possible planned ignition on the Connell Ridge Fire in British Columbia
Evaluating a possible planned ignition on the Connell Ridge Fire in British Columbia. Photo: BC Wildfire Service.

The British Columbia Wildfire Service (BCWS) has been working to contain the 4,230-acre Connell Ridge Fire 14 miles south of Cranbrook since it was reported August 1. It was likely started by lightning.

Crews had already completed burnouts (or planned ignitions) on the south flank and southeast corner but on August 19 a decision had to be made about whether to conduct an additional burnout on the southwest side. After a test burn, the Incident Management Team decided not to conduct the burnout.

Map of the Connell Ridge Fire, Aug. 21,1 2022
Map of the Connell Ridge Fire, Aug. 21,1 2022. BCWS.

The BCWS created the explanatory article and illustrations, below, about some of the considerations and steps taken as the decision was being made. It is rather extraordinary for a land management agency, at least in the United States, to provide this degree of transparency and detail about how a suppression decision was made. This could serve as an example for others to follow, especially when “big box” strategies are used that result in burning thousands of acres of green vegetation, too often with insufficient thought about ignition tactics, second order results, air quality, and long term fire effects.

The article below uses the term “guard” in the first paragraph which I believe in this context refers to a completed control line intended to stop the spread of the fire.

Information Officers on Type 1 Incident Management Teams should be capable of creating valuable content like this:

August 21, 2022

Test ignitions were conducted on the morning of August 19, 2022 on the Connell Ridge (N10989) wildfire, in anticipation of implementing planned ignition operations on the southwest corner. These test ignitions allow our crews and operational staff to determine if the unburnt fuels between the fire perimeter and the guard will be receptive to burning.

The area that the small-scale ignition was planned for is in steep terrain where the fire has been naturally burning in a patchy manner as the fire finds drier fuels that are able to ignite. This means there is a lot of unburnt, greener fuel within this area, between the free burning fires edge and the established control lines.

Evaluating a possible planned ignition on the Connell Ridge Fire in British Columbia.
Evaluating a possible planned ignition on the Connell Ridge Fire in British Columbia. Photos: BC Wildfire Service.

The purpose of the planned ignition for this area was to remove that unburnt fuel in an intentional way to secure the control line and achieve containment on the southwest ridge of the fire. This unburnt fuel has the potential to burn on it’s own as these greener fuels continue to dry under the hot and dry weather conditions. While the shorter term forecast for the complex shows patches of precipitation, the precipitation will be minimal and is not guaranteed to fall on the fires. With the longer-term forecast returning to a warming and drying trend early next week, these drying green fuels that may not have seen any additional moisture will continue to dry.

Planned ignitions are a very useful tactic in fire suppression and fire management and are often the safer and more efficient operational tactic. It allows us to bring the fire perimeter down to control lines and creates a more uniform and continuous fire edge which is easier for crews to use direct attack methods on and extinguish hot spots to strengthen control lines and achieve containment. This is also more time-efficient and safer for the crews as they have to spend less time chasing hot spots and patches of free burning fire in rough terrain.

Based on test ignitions on August 19 it was determined that the unburnt fuels would not burn in a way that contributes to the strengthening of the existing control line. This means it will take longer to secure this portion of the fire as crews will now need to focus on targeting the patches and hotspots for extinguishment in order to secure this area of the fire.

The Incident Management Team on the Connell Ridge Fire is also working on the Weasel Creek Fire (N11062) and the Cummings Creek Fire (N11051).

Single engine air tanker makes forced landing in British Columbia

Connell Ridge Fire map, August 3, 2022 forced landing air tanker
Connell Ridge Fire map, August 3, 2022

This article was first published at Fire Aviation.

A single engine amphibious air tanker made a forced landing Tuesday while working on a wildfire in British Columbia.

“This evening a Conair 802 Air Tractor Fireboss Skimmer aircraft experienced an engine failure during operations on the Connell Ridge Wildfire, near Cranbrook,” said BC Wildfire Service Executive Director Ian Meier. “The pilot conducted a successful forced landing and was transported to receive medical assessment. Our thoughts are with the pilot involved in this incident as well as their family, friends and colleagues. The BC Wildfire Service is providing all possible assistance to the pilot and Conair.”

Jeff Berry, Director of Business Development with Conair Aerial Firefighting confirmed the pilot was able to walk away unharmed from the aircraft to a helicopter and was transported to Cranbrook for assessment by paramedics.

“His skill and training as an aerial firefighting pilot under challenging circumstances enabled him to execute an exceptional emergency maneuver resulting in a safe outcome,” said Berry. “He was faced with a problem with the engine, he went through his emergency procedures, and put the aircraft down in such a way that he was able to walk away unharmed. Faced with a difficult bunch of decisions in a very, very short period, he did exceptionally well.”

The Connell Ridge Fire 14 miles south Cranbrook, BC has burned approximately 1,235 acres  (500 hectares) since it was discovered August 1, 2022.

File photo of an Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss operated by Conair. Not necessarily the aircraft involved in the incident.
File photo of an Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss operated by Conair. Not necessarily the aircraft involved in the incident.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Mike.

Nohomin Creek Fire near Lytton, BC prompts evacuations

At least six home have been destroyed

Updated 6:59 p.m. MDT July 16, 2022

Nohomin Creek Fire July 16, 2022
Nohomin Creek Fire, looking north up the Fraser River towards the Stein Valley. BC Fire Service photo, 3:39 p.m. MDT July 16, 2022.

The British Columbia Fire Service reported at 4:02 p.m. Saturday that the fire activity on the Nohomin Creek Fire northwest of Lytton, BC has been stable today and no major growth was observed. Ground crews and aviation resources are working on the south, east, and north flanks. The western flank  is moving upslope in steep, difficult to access terrain, the agency said.

The Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park is partially closed. Currently, there are no impacts to Highway 1 or Highway 12. The Lytton Ferry is closed in both directions.

There was no update on the size, and it is still reported at 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres).

10:32 a.m. MDT July 16, 2022

Nohomin Creek Fire Lytton, BC
Nohomin Creek Fire Lytton, BC, July 14, 2022. BC Wildfire Service.

The Nohomin Creek Fire on the west side of the Fraser River northwest of Lytton, British Columbia has burned approximately 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) since it was reported Thursday July 14. Judging from these photos shot that day it spread very rapidly.

Fire officials said Friday that at least six homes have been destroyed, and that number could rise.

The BC Wildfire Service reports that the fire behavior is rank four and rank five, meaning it is crowning, has a moderate to fast rate of spread, and is exhibiting short-range spotting.

Nohomin Creek Fire map Lytton BC
Nohomin Creek Fire map. The red dots represent heat detected by satellites as late as 7 a.m. MDT July 16, 2022.

Winds of 30 to 40 kilometers per hour (19 to 26 miles per hour) are pushing the fire west away from communities, according to the BC Wildfire Service in a Friday evening update. At that time there were no impacts to Highway 1 or Highway 12. The Lytton Ferry is closed in both directions.

The two photos below were taken the day the fire started.

Nohomin Creek Fire Lytton BC
(1) Nohomin Creek Fire across the river from Lytton, BC, July 14, 2022.
Nohomin Creek Fire Lytton, BC
(2) Nohomin Creek Fire across the river from Lytton, BC, at 3 p.m. July 14, 2022.

Evacuations are in effect. Lytton First Nation has the details.

In late June of 2021 the Lytton Creek Fire burned more than 83,700 hectares (206,000 acres) and destroyed 90 percent of the village of Lytton. Two civilians were killed in the fire.

BC Wildfire Service moves to a year-round workforce

The agency employs approximately 1,000 wildland firefighters

BC Wildfire Service 2022 budget
Minister of Finance Selina Robinson presented the 2022 budget for British Columbia on February 22, 2022.

The government of British Columbia intends to move to a year-round workforce for the Wildfire Service in the next fiscal year that begins April 1. In a February 22 presentation Minister of Finance Selina Robinson said, “$145 million in new funding will strengthen B.C.’s emergency management and wildfire services.  The BC Wildfire Service will shift from a reactive to a proactive approach by moving to a year-round workforce that will deliver all pillars of emergency management: prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.”

The BC Wildfire Service employs approximately 1,000 wildland firefighters each year.

The new budget will allow improvements of the public alerting system for wildfires and help support people and communities during climate-related events.

An additional $98 million will fund wildfire prevention work and maintain forest service roads used to respond to forest fires.

The budget also includes $210 million to support community climate change preparedness and emergency management, including through the FireSmart program, the Community Emergency Preparedness Fund, and Indigenous-led emergency management priorities. It will support communities and First Nations to build more resilient dikes and map floodplains.

Study finds that short-term exposure to smoke from 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires in Alberta affected lung function

Equipment more sensitive than a conventional spirometer was able to detect lung damage

Horse River Fire Alberta, Canada 2016
A police officer walks past burned homes in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada May 5, 2016. AFP photo / Alberta RCMP / HO

A study on the health of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers who were deployed in Alberta, Canada in 2016 to the Horse River Fire at Fort McMurray found that their airway function was compromised in the first three months after deployment. An analysis of health data from 218 officers revealed that the small airways in their lungs underwent structural changes after they were deployed, potentially increasing their risk for respiratory diseases in the future. The median exposure duration of the officers was eight days.

“We cannot tell from our study whether it’s long-lasting damage, but we do know from other studies that if people are exposed to high levels of particulate matter in the air, they are more likely to suffer from long-lasting damage to the lungs,” said Paige Lacy, professor of medicine at the University of Alberta and former director of research for the Alberta Respiratory Centre.

The Horse River Fire caused the largest evacuation in Canadian history, with more than 80,000 people rapidly removed from the community as fires encroached on the city. Hundreds of RCMP members were sent to the community to assist with the evacuation and to secure the area in the following days. The fire burned 589,552 hectares (1.4 million acres) in 2016 and destroyed 2,400 structures. The extreme fire behavior created lightning in the pyrocumulonimbus cloud atop the smoke column that started a number of new wildfires 40 kilometers (26 miles) ahead of the main wildfire front according to a report released in June of 2017.

Horse River Fire Alberta
These two fires started at about the same time on May 1, 2016 near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. On the left is the MMD-004 fire inside the city limits of Fort McMurray. The Horse River Fire, often referred to as the Fort McMurray Fire, is on the right.

Subtle changes in lung function detected
The lung-function data were gathered as part of a larger study being conducted by Synergy Respiratory and Cardiac Care, looking at the health of RCMP officers dispatched to the Fort McMurray wildfire. According to the researchers, the subtle differences in lung function that were found were not measurable using traditional lung-function tests, and could only be observed through the use of more sensitive instruments. Researchers employed both spirometry and body plethysmography testing methods.

“Small airways are potentially more vulnerable and there is no way that a spirometer (a device commonly used to measure lung function) can detect the progression of their damage over time,” said Subhabrata Moitra, first author on the study and a post-doctoral fellow in the U of A’s Division of Pulmonary Medicine. “So if we use highly sensitive instruments, we can immediately get some signals whether there are any acute yet subtle changes caused by physiological factors or occupational or environmental hazards.”

The researchers noted that because the officers only came in for testing once after being deployed, they were not able to observe potential recovery of lung function or measure long-term damage.

The authors of the study pointed out the importance of having a health-surveillance program in place so responders who are exposed to such hazards can have their health monitored.

Survey finds that firefighters also complained of respiratory issues
A survey found that some firefighters who fought the fire at Fort McMurray also battled respiratory and mental health issues.

Below is an excerpt from a 2017 CBC news article:

The University of Alberta study surveyed 355 firefighters and found a “very large proportion” of them complained of respiratory issues including coughing, breathlessness, wheezing and chest tightness in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

“When we saw them later, probably about one in five of those still had problems with their chests that they felt had been caused or made worse by the fire,” said Nicola Cherry, the epidemiologist leading the study.

And they’re battling more than just physical ailments — mental-health issues affect one in six of study participants.

“When we collected this information, it was early days and people may develop bigger issues as time goes forward,” Cherry said.

Our Take
It is likely that wildland firefighters are routinely exposed to far higher concentrations of smoke and for longer periods of time than the RCMP officers at Fort McMurray. It is important that agencies who employ wildland firefighters establish a health-surveillance program that includes lung function tests using methods such as body plethysmography that are much more sensitive than a conventional spirometer.