A lightning-sparked fire south of Quesnel was quickly extinguished thanks to an ‘all hands on deck’ effort and the sharp attention of a mine employee.
Around 11 a.m. Wednesday, July 28, a mine worker situated above the Gibraltar Mine tailings storage facility noticed smoke on Beaver Lake Road, said McLeese Lake Volunteer Fire Department member Ian Hicks.
Mine authorities and the forestry service were immediately notified.
“And then I ended up getting a phone call too, and that’s how it got discovered,” Hicks said.
Hicks, a contractor for Gibraltar, ran down to the bushes to see the fire for himself and saw visible flames in the forest he described as tinder dry.
Tree branches were shaking back and forth from the heat of the flames as a helicopter began to circle above, he said.
When Hicks noticed the helicopter land and deployed its water bag, he scrambled to go and get the volunteer department’s fire truck.
“I thought at the very least there’s going to be extra water around,” he said.
“I passed the forestry guys coming in towards the fire as I was going out, and so I thought good we got a group of guys, we got a helicopter and by the time I got back up the hill with the fire truck the helicopter had dumped maybe three, four, five bags of water on this thing and knocked it right down.”
As the flames choked on the water dropped by the helicopter, the forestry crew on the ground laid out hoses.
Hicks refilled their approximate 300-gallon water tank from the fire truck holding 1,200 gallons.
A community member with a water tote on the back of their truck even helped out to provide a couple of hundred gallons.
“They were super happy because they didn’t have to worry about conserving water, and so they hit it hard and fast, and I just kept my hose on a trickle filling up their tank, and it worked out,” Hicks said.
“Everybody just worked excellently.”
Within three hours, the fire was out.
It is believed the fire was caused by a lightning strike that struck a tree several weeks earlier and only fully emerged when the winds came up.
“The speed of getting on it and awareness is so important,” Hicks said, noting the fire could have easily grown into an uncontrollable blaze.
“This thing sat in that tree stump for two weeks and popped out and at the worst possible time when it’s so dry — Mother Nature has really got a good sense of humour, you know.”
Hicks encourages residents to download lightning strike apps, and once safe following a storm, they can pinpoint the strikes to see if there is any smoldering.
He also advises them to be cautious in what has turned out to be a relatively dry summer with more potential heat warnings being issued.
A week ago, the McLeese Lake Volunteer Fire Department responded to a fire on the side of Highway 97 near Blue Lake Road.
Hicks strongly suspects it was the result of a cigarette.
“It’s like throwing fire out the window of your vehicle while you’re driving along at 100 km/h,” he said.
“It’s just ridiculous.”