Dramatic Morley Creek Fire prompts Evacuation Alert

Flames on the slope of a hill. Photo: Jeff Robinson.

August 12, 2017 | Nelson, British Columbia, Canada. The Morley Creek (aka Kokanee Creek) fire was started by lightning on Saturday August 12, 2017, at approximately 3:30 PM in the hills some 9 miles northeast of Nelson, British Columbia.

A Kamov Ka-32T Helix-C fighting the Kokanee Creek fire in British Columbia on August 13, 2017. Photo: Jeff Robinson.

The blaze escalated quickly due to the prolonged extreme heat wave in the area and dry foliage. In the course of the first 3 hours the flames grew in size and crept ever closer to the houses along the highway. This created a dangerous “one way in, one way out” scenario and prompted an evacuation alert issued by the Regional District of Central Kootenay and the British Colombia Wildfire Services.

As a result of the warning, notices were issued to 135 households on both sides of Highway 3A along a 4.8 kilometre (3 mile) stretch. These dwellings are geographically wedged between the heavily forested hillsides and the shores of Kootenay Lake.

The inferno boils. Photo: Jeff Robinson.

Officials believe the fire started in steep, irregular terrain and this is making efforts to control the inferno a challenge for the crew of 40 firefighters on the ground and the air tanker crews above.

The initial attack of the lower flank on the fire and along the ridgeline was undertaken by two Airspray L-188 Lockheed Electra’s and three Conair AT802 Air Tractors. All these aerial assets dumped as much retardant as possible before flight operations were curtailed at around 8:15 PM due to diminishing daylight, a condition which made further flights unacceptably dangerous.

Another Kamov.
Photo: Jeff Robinson.

Residents said the fire was very dramatic after sundown, burning furiously into the night sky. Some witnesses reported that tree candling could be seen from many vantage points along the highway.

On Sunday, and about 18 hours after the start of the conflagration, two VIH Helicopters Ltd. Kamov KA-32 helicopters, based on Vancouver Island, began dousing outbreaks with water from Kootenay Lake. The rotary-wing craft carry “Bambi Buckets” that have a capacity of approximately 4,921 litres (1,300 gallons). The Kamovs, over the next 6 hours, delivered many loads.

An AT802 drops its load onto the blaze.
Photo: Jeff Robinson.

There was a 5-minute turnaround time between sorties, and the pilots strategically released 590,524 litres (156,000 gallons) of water onto hot zones.

Later that evening, the area was blessed with a downpour of about 2.54 centimetres (1 inch) of rain and a drop in regional temperatures. The climatic change was conducive to containment efforts.

A Kamov bucket bombs the fire.
Photo: Jeff Robinson.

As of today, August 16, 2017, at 10:10 AM, the evacuation alert has been rescinded and the fire is 85.0 hectares (210 acres) in size and 0% contained.

At least at this point the Morley Creek Fire is not in immediate proximity to the residences along Highway 3A.

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Contributing photojournalists Cathy and Jeff Robinson were optimally positioned to provide this report, which will be updated and expanded as the battle continues.

Combating forest fires is dangerous for those toiling on the ground and in the air, as evidenced by two incidents in Colorado and one in California. The first was the deaths of 13 smoke jumpers, who unwittingly found themselves surrounded inundated with flames during the South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain before perishing in 1994, and crash of an air tankers (a Consolidated-Vultee PB4Y-2 Privateer) near Estes Park, Colorado, and a Lockheed C-130A near Walker, California, in 2002.