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Castlegar area fire chief urging people to stay away from Merry Creek fire zone

Fire chief asking people to stay away from area
The Merry Creek wildfire burned 20 hectares of land on Castlegar’s border. Photo: Regional District Central Kootenay

A Castlegar area fire chief is warning curious residents to stay away from the Merry Creek fire zone.

On July 9, responsibility for the Merry Creek wildfire was handed off to the Ootischenia Fire Department (OFD) from the Southeast Fire Centre.

Although its not in Ootischenia, the area where the fire was falls under the jurisdiction of the OFD.

While no active suppression activities are happening at the moment, OFD chief Len Coates says that a two-person team heads out to the site every day around noon to look for hot spots. The crew walks the perimeter and checks a green space within the fire boundary.

But Coates says it is not safe for his crews, or anyone else to wander inside the perimeter.

With fire penetrating roots and stumps and burned trees toppling over on a regular basis, Coates says the area is still a real danger zone.

He also warns of areas called hot wells. Similar to trees wells in the snowy alpine, a person can suddenly find themselves sinking in several feet of ash.

Most of the area is also private property.

While no structures were destroyed in the fire, some old vehicles parked in a ravine on private property were destroyed.

The fire remained on the downhill side of Merry Creek Forest Service Road and Coates says although it was close, the fire never crossed to the other side of the road.

Coates says even though a lot of attention often goes to the aircraft and pilots fighting wildfires, he thinks the ground crews are the unsung heroes.

“There were 40 of them, right in the trees in 38-degree temperatures fighting the fire,” said Coates. “They would come out black and charred.”

The fire burned 20 hectares on the Canada Day weekend and prompted evacuations before being subdued. It is suspected to be human caused, but is still under investigation.

As the fire danger remains high in the area, Coates is also asking for caution from those operating motorized and off-road vehicles for fear an errant spark or hot muffler could ignite a new wildfire.

Meanwhile about 20 fires are burning in the West Kootenay, including one near the Bombi Summit.


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Betsy Kline

About the Author: Betsy Kline

After spending several years as a freelance writer for the Castlegar News, Betsy joined the editorial staff as a reporter in March of 2015. In 2020, she moved into the editor's position.
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