Bish Creek wildfire

Wildfire near Kitimat, B.C., classified as ‘out of control’ by BC Wildfire Service

A fire in the Bish Creek area has grown from 15 to 40 hectares overnight, driven by warm weather and drier-than-normal conditions in the province’s northwest

A wildfire near Kitimat in northwest B.C. has been classified as “out of control” by the BC Wildfire Service after growing from 15 to 40 hectares overnight. Firefighters suspect it was caused by human activity.

The Bish Creek wildfire, located approximately 10 kilometres southwest of Kitimat, has nearly 40 firefighters and two helicopters fighting to contain it as it continues to burn through cutblocks left behind by former logging operations. 

Kitimat’s fire chief Trent Bossence told The Narwhal the Bish Creek area is an important logging area that is commonly used by locals for recreational activities. He was first on site to investigate after people reported concerns Sunday afternoon. 

“It’s definitely a fairly aggressive fire. There was a lot of smoke and it did seem to move fairly quickly once it got going,” he said. 

The BC Wildfire Service took over the response and local fire departments, including Kitimat and Terrace, are on standby. The Kitimat area is currently under a danger class rating of high as hot and windy weather carry the wildfire.

The likelihood of the blaze spreading into residential neighbourhoods is low, but the commercial industry is on watch, said Bossence, noting that the Kitimat LNG site is close to the wildfire.

Kitimat Bish Creek fire

The Bish Creek wildfire is located along the forest services road near the Kitimat LNG facility. Map: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal

Warmer-than-usual temperatures this past week likely resulted in drier conditions in the cutblocks, said Bossence. He does not believe industrial workers are responsible for the wildfire. 

“It was started in an area where there was no logging activity or no building activity, so we’re confident it wasn’t caused by construction work or logging operations,” he said, adding there were no storms or reports of lightning. 

“We can only assume that it was caused by other means of human activity.”

With COVID-19 restrictions limiting access to provincial parks, more people have been visiting the Bish Creek area this year, he said.

Although the investigation is ongoing, Bossence said the wildfire likely started after someone didn’t properly extinguish their campfire or cigarette. Target shooting is also a popular activity that could have sparked it. 

He added old, dry logs left behind in cutblocks by logging companies may have fuelled the fire or contributed to its growth. 

The Bish Creek wildfire on the afternoon of May 11. Photo: District of Kitimat

The BC Wildfire Service wrote in a press release that “high, gusty winds and warm temperatures, expected to continue through Wednesday, are challenging control efforts.” 

Bossence said wildfires aren’t common in the Kitimat-Terrace area as the north coast tends to have a wet climate, but local fire departments have been warned their wildfire season might be a bad one.

A separate, smaller wildfire was extinguished on Copper Mountain near Terrace this past Sunday. 

According to the Terrace Standard, the Copper Mountain fire was reported in the afternoon and was extinguished by the early evening.

Terrace’s fire chief Dave Jephson said conditions will be “drier than normal.”

For Jephson, these wildfires serve as a reminder for locals to be vigilant as some have grown relaxed after not experiencing wildfires for a while. “We’ve dodged a bullet for many years here in our area.”

“When we’re in fire season, everybody should be double-checking where they live and pre-planning [an escape] because those wildfires can travel 40 kilometres in a day.”

Natalia Balcerzak is a journalist in Northwest B.C., delving into the pressing issues of the region as it rapidly grows…

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