A vigilant Slocan Valley couple recently averted the ignition of a wildfire caused by a downed power line on their property.
Miriam Mason Martineau and Stephan Martineau, who own an acreage near Winlaw, make a habit of surveying the landscape in their area for signs of new wildfires, as they did on July 3 following a lightning windstorm.
“After a storm we went to the bottom of the valley and looked around to see if we could see any starting signs of fire,” says Miriam. “And then at about 8:45 p.m. we were looking back up on our own land, and for a short amount of time we saw what looked like a dark grey plume of smoke.”
As they drove back home along their 2.5 km driveway they smelled smoke.
They stopped the car and while Stephan walked into the forest to try to find the source of the smoke, Miriam called BC Wildfire Service and every fire department in the area as well as FortisBC.
“It was getting dark,” says Miriam. “We had a good flashlight. Stephan spent probably an hour and a half just walking around while I’m basically on the driveway calling all these people trying to get through to them, sometimes not getting through, leaving messages.”
They finally found the source of the smoke — a smoldering fire at the base of a tree, along with broken power lines lying on the ground.
“It had been smoldering for quite a while because you could see it had already burned quite far down into the roots and there were some embers there,” says Miriam.
“Some trees fell on the power lines,” says Stephan, “probably six or seven in a clump, and the weight of those pushed against the primary power line and likely made the primary wire come into contact with the ground wire and surrounding standing trees.”
Eventually the weight of the trees on the power lines snapped both wires completely, he says, and as the wires came into contact with the ground, this started a series of small smouldering fires, including the one they originally found at the base of a tree. They also found a burned spot high up in the trunk of a tree.
“If the power lines had not snapped, one can assume the standing trees would have eventually caught on fire too,” says Stephan, who is the manager of the Slocan Integral Forestry Co-op (SIFCo).
They couldn’t access the spot fires because they were blocked by the fallen lines, and they should not get close to live power lines.
At about 1:30 a.m. a man from FortisBC arrived.
“He was super helpful,” says Miriam. “The first thing he did is deactivate and ground the power lines. So then were were finally able to scoot under those and go and get water in there.”
Miriam says the lesson here is the need for a heightened vigilance and an increasing need to look out for each other.
“I’ve noticed that our community in general is getting better at this, because you might not see the smoke on your land, but your neighbor across the valley might see it.”
She says the community is starting to adapt to the likelihood that every summer could have fires and smoky skies, and she hopes they can all become more aware while managing the anxiety.
“As a community, it’s like a new skill set we need to grow in ourselves and have this alertness, hopefully without it becoming too stressful.”