The wildfire burning at the top of Arbutus Ridge, above the Alberni Inlet, has ballooned in size from five hectares to 20.
The fire, which was first reported in the early-morning hours of Aug. 10, is burning near a logged area to the west of cellphone towers located at the top of the ridge. Flames and smoke could be seen from the waterfront between Canal Waterfront Park and Harbour Quay.
As of Friday night, the fire was listed as a “Fire of Note” on the BC Wildfire Service website.
An air tanker dropped retardant on the cell towers this morning, and an initial attack crew from B.C. Wildfire Service has been on the scene since early Friday morning, Coastal Fire Centre fire information assistant Dorthe Jakobsen said.
“I believe they are bucketing very heavily on that one today,” she added. Helicopters have been dropping buckets of water from “Bambi Buckets” suspended underneath the helicopter.
The city of Port Alberni noted on its Facebook page that fire crews, including members of the Port Alberni Fire Department, will be working through till dark.
The changing weather is a concern for the Arbutus Ridge fire, with winds picking up on the Alberni Inlet this afternoon.
“The wind is always a concern,” Jacobsen said. “This is a tricky day for fires. Our crews are well prepared for that and we’ll be watching very carefully.”
The BC Wildfire Service was considering halting aerial operations on the Arbutus Ridge fire after learning that someone was illegally operating a drone in the area. “We can’t put our pilots at risk like this,” fire information officer Donna MacPherson said.
Any aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones are automatically restricted from flying around a wildfire, as per Transport Canada rules, she said.
The Arbutus Ridge fire is one of three burning in the Alberni Valley this week.
The Beaufort Range fire above Cherry Creek is still 10 hectares and considered out of control. B.C. Wildfire Service has 20 firefighters, three helicopters and three pieces of heavy equipment working this fire as well as members from Cherry Creek Volunteer Fire Department and Beaver Creek Volunteer Fire Department.
“What they do is they try and contain it,” Jacobsen explained.
As of Friday evening, the Beaufort Range fire was 80 percent contained.
A fire at Turtle Lake east of Great Central Lake was first reported late Monday, Aug. 6. The four-hectare fire is considered contained. No information was given on whether this fire is completely out or not.
There was also a fire on the B.C. Wildfire Service interactive map listed as Museum Creek, but it has since been taken down. “It might have been just a smoke chase—someone reported smoke in the area,” Jacobsen said. “There is no fire there.”
The shifting weather is a concern for the Coastal Fire Centre, Jacobsen said. “Quite often they have personnel (on scene) at night. I suspect they would tonight with the shift in weather—we’re quite concerned. While we may not be working the fire, we’ll certainly be monitoring it.”
Despite growing calls from the public to put the famed Martin Mars waterbombers back into use to fight the fires burning close to home, Coulson Aviation owner Wayne Coulson said the Hawaii Mars could not be operational in time. There has been no call for the waterbombers to join the arsenal of aerial firefighting assets already in use.