Every year many wildfires burn far from residential areas with little direct human impact other than hazy skies and mention in the local news. When the Silver Creek Fire happened close to homes, a whole community was affected.
The settlements of Silver Creek, the Salmon Valley, and the City of Salmon Arm share their borders with the eastern slope of the Fly Hills situated in the Kamloops Forest District. The border where those residences and forest vegetation meet is called a Wildland/Urban Interface Zone. When the Silver Creek Fire crossed into this zone in 1998, Forest Service firefighters continued to battle the blaze but did not have the mandate, training or equipment to deal with structure fires.
Then on August 5th at 13:00 fire crews received an extreme weather behaviour warning. The air and land assaults shifted focus. It became imperative to preserve lives and structures in the interface area. Bulldozers built guards near Salmon Valley homes and barns but the fire spread down into the valley and ignited structures and vegetation in its path. It was heading towards Salmon Arm, a community of 15,000 people. A coordinated community plan was needed to successfully fight this urban interface fire.
An Emergency Operation Centre was set up at Fire Hall No. 3. Meetings were held twice a day, in the morning and early evening. Local representatives from the Salmon Arm Fire Department, B.C. Forest Service, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, B.C. Ambulance Service, Shuswap Emergency Management for the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, B.C. Hydro and B.C. Gas gathered.
Salmon Arm’s Mayor Colin Mayes asked Retired Brigadier General Peter Kilby to create an emergency evacuation plan. Kilby became the Evacuation Director. The agencies and their staff formed a unified command structure to determine objectives, identify strategies, establish communication links, and assign tasks and functions to protect life and property.
Silver Creek to the South:
When the fire crossed the valley floor, the Silver Creek Volunteer Fire Department’s firefighters were left cut off from Salmon Arm and wondered what was happening. They saw the fire on the move. Because of geography, the firefighters were isolated on the south side of Branchflower Road, trying to protect their territory alone. Was it the end of a community?
Photo credit in order of appearance:
1.-3. inc. James Murray, Salmon Arm Observer, c. 1998
4. Gary Hucul, c. 1998