Smoke rises from a wildfire burning just outside of Zeballos, a remote village with a population of just 107 people. The lightning-caused wildfire grew significantly since Tuesday, when this photo was taken.

Authorities call for calm as fires burn near Zeballos

Authorities are asking residents not to panic as several wildfires burn near the tiny village of Zeballos, population 107.

A lightning-caused wildfire directly outside of town expanded on Tuesday, as firefighters dealt with a larger blaze near the village’s only access road. Meanwhile, a new wildfire flared up within a few kilometres of Oclucje, a nearby First Nation reserve.

Mike Atchison, the Zeballos emergency program coordinator, said on Wednesday morning that a fire on a steep hillside had grown signifcantly since Tuesday, crossing a bluff towards the village. Locals fear the fire could threaten the town, but he urged calm.

“Lots of people are very excited and upset,” he said. “They figure it’s going to be a big raging fire.”

He asked for people to be “calm, cool and collected, and don’t get too excited.”

Atchison said that he’d spent 30 years in the fire service and that the fire was currently under control.

The wildfire caused trees and other debris to fall down the steep hillside, prompting the closure of a road leading into the village. The fire was generating “a lot of heavy smoke” carried by a north wind across the village, said Atchison.

The fire was on a rocky mountain face, and moving slowly for lack of ground fuel, he said.

“We had pretty high winds in here last night and I thought it was going to get much worse, but it hasn’t,” said Atchison.

Resources on-scene included a tanker provided by Lemare, a logging company. Zeballos has a couple of its own trucks and a fire hydrant system, said Atchison, and officials are prepared to pump water to the site if necessary.

He added that a chopper dropped eight buckets of water onto the wildfire on Tuesday, but he said it soon left to deal with another nearby fire.

Asked if he expected the Coastal Fire Centre to deploy more resources, he said: “We’re hoping. But they’ve got lots of other issues.”

READ MORE: More than 35 wildfires burning on North Island on Tuesday

Several First Nations belonging to the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) were planning to hold their summer games this weekend in Zeballos, but the events were cancelled due to the wildfire, said Andy Callicum, vice-president of the NTC.

Dorthe Jacobsen, a spokesperson for the Coastal Fire Centre, said the fire on the outskirts of Zeballos had reached seven hectares by Wednesday. She confirmed that a helicopter was bucketing at the site of the flare-up on Tuesday.

“We intend to bucket it today as well,” she said on Wednesday morning.

The Coastal Fire Centre was “working on getting crews” to the scene, she said. But she noted that resources were being deployed throughout the Island. She said the fire near Zeballos wasn’t considered a threat to the village as of Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, another wildfire was burning at Pinder Creek near the Zeballos Mainline, which is the only road to the remote coastal village. That fire had grown to 45 hectares by Wednesday morning, compared to 40 hectares the previous day, according to the Coastal Fire Centre.

READ MORE: B.C. declares state of emergency as wildfires rage

Jacobsen said the Pinder Creek fire was “burning quite vigorously in slash and heavy timber,” and that 18 firefighters were at the scene, along with three choppers.

Elsewhere in the region, another wildfire flared up at Espinose Creek, two kilometres from the Nuchatlaht First Nation’s Oclucje reserve. That lightning-caused fire measured 15 hectares by Wednesday morning, and Jacobsen described it as an “out of control” smoldering ground fire.

Jacobsen said the fire posed “no danger at this point” to the reserve, adding that a road and a creek separated the wildfire from the reserve.

Nuchatlaht First Nation has 162 members, including about 20 living on the reserve, according to its website. The Mirror has reached out to Nuchatlaht First Nation for more information about wildfire conditions in the area.

New wildfires dotted the North Island on Wednesday morning, likely the delayed effect of lightning storms last Saturday. A wildfire at Holberg Road, near Port Hardy, measured less than half a hectare but was “out of control” on Wednesday. Another new fire, this one at Kaipip Lake, in the central Island, was considered “out of control” and measured 2.1 hectares on Wednesday.

Very little information was immediately available about some of the new wildfires as authorities struggled to keep up with the rapid developments. The number of wildfires burning on the North Island by Wednesday had reached 44, compared to 38 on Tuesday morning.

“Our brief respite with cool [weather] and high humidity is probably over,” said Jacobsen. “That does concern us.”

Jacobsen noted that weather forecasts were calling for no precipitation in the near future, and she called on the general public to respect the open fire ban that’s in effect. The BC Wildfire Service has also asked the public to report any fires, smoke columns or violations of wildfire regulations.

@davidgordonkoch
david.koch@campbellrivermirror.com

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