Heavy smoke across the Fraser Valley has been described as eery, unsettling and downright frightening.
But no where in the Valley is that more true than on the front line of the seemingly unstoppable Mt. Hicks wildfire. Burning 10 kilometres north of Agassiz, the fire is 35 per cent contained and less than 500 metres from a control line near Kamp Road.
The over 300-hectare wildfire has been burning for more than two weeks, and has become the largest single wildfire burning in the Coastal region.
The blaze made its way up steep terrain bordering Highway 7 after a spark from a tractor trailer with a busted tire ignited the dry forest floor Aug. 8. Since then, the fire has done nothing but grow, reaching 150 hectares in seven days, and 318 hectares in 15.
On Sunday, westward outflow winds pushed the blaze closer to Kamp Road, where a small community of Kent farmers – with everything from dairy cows to hay fields – received hand-delivered evacuation alerts with directions to prepare for full evacuation, if the time comes.
Gene Chanasyk’s 50-acre Kamp Road property has been overrun with activity since early Wednesday morning. As the northernmost home on Kamp Road, his is the most vulnerable.
His rescue dog Jasper, stays close to his owner’s legs, sniffing suspiciously at newcomers.
“He’s getting used to all these people,” Chanasyk said, giving him a pat on the head.
Chanasyk leases his fields, but he still lives in the home he built himself in the early ’70s. He said this is the first time in 46 years of living on Kamp Road that he’s experienced a wildfire near his home, and he certainly never expected it to get so close.
“[The fire] was way over, one mountain range east of me and I thought well, ‘it’s still quite a ways away,’” he recalled. “But by golly, with the winds and everything else, pretty soon it was in a valley just east of me.”
|A map of the area under evacuation alert in the District of Kent. (Facebook)|
Surrounded by mountains, Chanasyk has watched the fire move in over the past few days.
“In about half a day it worked its way down the mountain, to the back of my farm,” he said.“You could see flare-ups all over the place and hear logs crashing, big trees coming down.”
“Little did I think in all these years that I would ever experience or witness something like that, but here it is.”
While BC Wildfire crews continue the battle from ground and air, with 37 firefighters and seven helicopters on site, the Agassiz Fire Department (AFD), with assistance from Port Moody Fire Rescue, are soaking Kamp Road buildings and property lines with sophisticated sprinkler systems.
|Sprinklers wet the northernmost property on Kamp Road as residents remain on evacuation alert. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)|
AFD chief Wayne Dyer said eastern outflow winds could still push the fire back towards where it started – but wind is hard to predict so AFD has around-the-clock strike teams monitoring the fire’s movement around a control line on the west flank. The line is treated with water, while brush on the forest floor is dug out to create an unpassable perimeter. But it’s impossible to know how well that perimeter will work unless the fire breaches the line, and officials won’t take any chances.
If the flames breach the control line, Kamp Road will evacuate.
Chanasyk is prepared to go. He filled a motorhome with antiques and important documents and is storing it at a friend’s place on Seabird Island.
“I took all the important and very dear things out of my house, so I don’t have to worry about them…except for the house itself,” he said.
Even as his home for the past four decades is threatened by one of B.C’s 563 merciless wildfires, Chanasyk remains hopeful thanks to the local and B.C. fire crews working around the clock.
“These guys are something else, I owe them a great deal of gratitude,” he said. “They are wonderful guys. I’m sure they’ll do the job and I think because of them, I’ll be spared.”
|Country roads don’t come equipped with fire hydrants. The Agassiz Fire Department fills blow-up pools of water to be used for a sprinkler system on a Kamp Road farm property. (Nina Grossman/TheObserver)|
With over 560 fires now burning, BC continues to experience heightened #BCwildfire activity. 3370 personnel are supporting ongoing wildfire response efforts. As much of BC is in a high to extreme fire danger rating, please remain vigilant and do your part to prevent wildfires. pic.twitter.com/w2lgh5aCmj
— BC Wildfire Service (@BCGovFireInfo) August 15, 2018