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

UPDATE: Nanaimo Lakes wildfire growing, but crews gaining some containment

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

UPDATE: While the wildfire at the Nanaimo Lakes area is still active, it is unlikely to spread, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service.

The fire, located 13 kilometres southwest of Nanaimo and first reported Aug. 5, is “being held,” which the wildfire service defines as a situation where “sufficient suppression action has been taken that the fire is not likely to spread beyond existing or predetermined boundaries under the prevailing and forecasted conditions.”

According to Dorothy Jakobsen, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre, the fire remains at 182 hectares in size.

“What the crews will do now is they’ll walk the ground and they’ll look for hot spots and they’ll dig down and they’ll put out each hot spot and they’ll be looking for danger trees, trees that are burned that need to be cut down, and it’s long, laborious, hard work for the crews,” said Jakobsen.

According to Jakobsen, Nanaimo Lakes fire was been determined to be human-caused and remains under investigation, which will take a few months to unfold.

Rain over the weekend didn’t extinguish the fire, Jakobsen said.

“Rain always helps, but at this time of the year it doesn’t do a lot,” said Jakobsen. “It kind of dampens the surface, but doesn’t go very deep, so it’s still very dry. As you know we’re in a drought/high drought rating, so it’s still very dry out there and there’s still fire danger hazards.”

The wildfire service still has 34 firefighters, two helicopters and six pieces of heavy equipment dedicated to the fire.

Nanaimo continues to be affected by smoky skies due to the wildfire and a special air quality statement remains in effect for the area, according to a bulletin from Environment Canada.

People with pre-existing health conditions, the elderly, infants, children and sensitive individuals are more susceptible to the smoke and are more likely to see health effects from exposure, said Environment Canada. People who have difficulty breathing are advised to remain inside, it said.

SUNDAY MORNING: A small spot fire in Nanaimo was one of more than 30 sparked by lightning on Vancouver Island yesterday.

A fire noted Saturday by B.C. Wildfire Service at Blackjack Creek west of Nanaimo was holding as of Sunday morning, said Dorothy Jakobsen, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre.

“It was a small spot fire, we responded, they caught it in time, I believe,” she said.

The area isn’t easily accessible for most vehicles, but “we are used to dealing with remote fires,” Jakobsen said. “That’s what we do, for the most part, actually … It was caught by the initial attack crew very quickly.”

Meanwhile, the Nanaimo Lakes fire reached 50 per cent containment, which represented “good progress,” she said, helped by the rain.

She said 34 fires started Saturday in the region, 31 of them due to lightning and three suspected to be person-caused. She said B.C. Wildfire Service receives information about fires from tips from the public and from pilots, as well as from dedicated patrols.

“When we know there’s a lightning storm in the offing, we organize ourselves and we get up in the air and we try and get eyes on the land as soon as possible,” Jakobsen said.

With so many fires all at once, she said the Coastal Fire Centre is prioritizing and looking at where to deploy resources.

“We’re doing what we can,” she said. “Quite often a lot of these are just a tree is on fire from lightning, the crew goes out and they get it and it’s over.”

SATURDAY AFTERNOON: Households near the Nanaimo Lakes fire are no longer on evacuation alert.

The Regional District of Nanaimo announced Saturday afternoon that it is rescinding an evacuation order for 77 addresses, and downgrading an evacuation order to an evacuation alert for another area closer to the Nanaimo Lakes wildfire.

B.C. Wildfire Service reports that the fire is now at 182 hectares with 40 per cent containment.

“The crews have made really good progress on it,” said Donna MacPherson, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre. “The fires didn’t react badly to the winds that went through here yesterday, which we were really grateful for.”

She said a lightning storm set off about 13 new fires on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, but that shouldn’t impact firefighting efforts at Nanaimo Lakes.

“We always put the most resources where [the fire] is adjacent to homes and communities, so of course that fire is well-resourced…” MacPherson said. “We’re mobilizing resources to the north where we can, but most of those fires are in a more remote location.”

According to the B.C. Wilfire Service website, crews at the Nanaimo Lakes wildfire have containment on the southeast side of the fire facing homes.

“Nanaimo River Road will remain closed 300 metres on each side of the fire and pilot cars will be used to escort traffic,” the site notes.

FRIDAY AFTERNOON: With wildfires burning in multiple locations on the Island, decisions need to be made every day about how to best deploy resources.

The Nanaimo Lakes wildfire is the largest blaze on Vancouver Island, but with others near Port Alberni, Crofton and Sooke and more than a dozen others in the Coastal Fire Centre’s mainland boundaries, there’s a balancing act.

Natasha Broznitsky, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre, said B.C. Wildfire Service firefighters are a “provincial resource,” but British Columbia’s six fire centres are entrusted with ensuring they maintain fire protection levels in their regions, with an eye to other parts of the province. Firefighters can sometimes be sent elsewhere, but “as a general rule, Coastal Fire Centre crews would certainly spend the majority of their time on the coast in a busier year, or a busier time period,” she said.

“But within the Coastal Fire Centre, you can certainly see some movement of crews … Vancouver Island crews can be kind of moving around on the Island.”

As for the Nanaimo Lakes wildfire, B.C. Wildfire Service provided an update on Friday afternoon, reporting that the fire size remains at 179 hectares with 25 per cent containment.

“This containment is on the southeast side, on the side facing the homes on Nanaimo Lake Road,” notes the B.C. Wildfire Service website.

The wildfire service reports “good progress,” adding that the incident commander was watching for the arrival of a cold front on Friday evening to help crews improve containment.

THURSDAY NIGHT: B.C. Wildfire Service provided an update on Thursday night, reporting that the fire size remains at 179 hectares with 25 per cent containment.

“Crews have made good progress on this fire today,” notes the wildfire services website, adding that more guard has been built which crews hope to strenthen enough to be able to improve containment on Friday.

The fire will have a fire watch on it tonight.

THURSDAY AFTERNOON: Wildfires burning in a few different areas has the Coastal Fire Centre busy. In addition to the Nanaimo Lakes wildfire, holding at 179 hectares, crews are also in the Beaufort Range near Port Alberni and at Maple Mountain near Crofton.

“The Coastal Fire Centre is responding to more wildfires in the last few days than we were previously in the last couple of weeks before that period,” said Natasha Broznitzky, fire information officer. “We certainly are paying close attention to the resources we have on the fires and making some plans for if we do get lightning with the change in weather that we’re expecting here in the next day of so … Resources and weather changes are something that we’re watching really closely.”

THURSDAY AFTERNOON: Crews worked all night trying to get the Nanaimo Lakes wildfire under control, and firefighting efforts are continuing today.

The wildfire, approximately 13 kilometres southwest of Nanaimo, was holding at 179 hectares with 25 per cent containment as of Thursday morning.

“Our firefighters are working to improve that containment today,” noted a press release Thursday from the B.C. Wildfire Service.

The fire service added in a social media post that “fire behavious is expected to be high” due to hot weather, and “we urge everyone to think about their actions, and ensure they do everything they can to prevent any more human-caused wildfires.”

Ten personnel continued their work overnight. As of Thursday morning, there were 55 personnel at the location, three helicopters and 18 pieces of heavy equipment.

According to B.C. Wildfire Service, the fire’s growth Wednesday was “mainly towards the north. There was minimal growth towards Nanaimo.”

For an article on yesterday’s firefighting efforts, click here.

A logging company employee died while working at the Nanaimo Lakes wildfire on Monday night. WorkSafe B.C. confirmed Wednesday that a TimberWest employee was found dead in a vehicle south of Nanaimo, according to Canadian Press.

For the article, click here.

WEDNESDAY EVENING: The Nanaimo Lakes wildfire is still growing, but firefighters are getting a better handle on that growth.

The fire southwest of the city grew to 179 hectares as of Wednesday evening, but it’s now considered 25 per cent contained, according to B.C. Wildfire Services.

Donna MacPherson, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre, said the fire “held really well” on three sides during Wednesday’s firefighting.

Read the updated article here.

WEDNESDAY MORNING: As crews keep trying to fight the Nanaimo Lakes wildfire, there are worries about increased fire danger by the weekend.

The wildfire southwest of Nanaimo was still calculated at 160 hectares and 10 per cent containment as of Wednesday morning, according to B.C. Wildfire Service. That’s the same as Tuesday evening, but doesn’t necessarily mean the fire growth has slowed.

“[Crews] are going to be going out now and they’ll reassess what’s going on, so it’s possible that will change,” said Donna MacPherson, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre.

MacPherson said the message the fire centre really wants to get out is for members of the public to “smarten up,” as the Nanaimo fire and two fires that broke out in the Alberni Valley are all suspected to have been human-caused.

“All of those are preventable, so people need to be more aware of what they’re doing when they’re in the forest. We just don’t need any more starts,” MacPherson said. “We’re going into a potential of lightning toward the end of the week, so we need to make sure we’re not going into that time with a lot of large fires that we have to respond to.”

Read the full article here.

TUESDAY EVENING: 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 TUESDAY: 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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TUESDAY MORNING: 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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