As much of the Sea to Sky had to contend with thick smoke and deteriorating air quality this past weekend, fire crews continue to suppress a 435-hectare wildfire near Anderson Lake.
While the lightning-caused fire at Grouse Creek, northwest of D'Arcy, was 40-per-cent contained on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 22, later that evening officials issued an evacuation order for the communities of Ponderosa and McGillivray. D'arcy and other communities in the area are still under an evacuation alert.
"When an Evacuation Order has been issued, you and all household members must leave immediately for your safety and not return until the order has been lifted," the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) website said. "Recreational property owners and visitors should make their way back to their fulltime residence. Fulltime residents who need assistance to evacuate, emergency accommodation or other support should make contact with the SLRD Emergency Program by phone: 604-815-7011."
The Highline Road is now closed from kilometre zero to six, from D'Arcy north to McGillivray, according to the SLRD. There will be no access to Seton Portage into the road closure area. The D'Arcy dock will remain open, but RCMP will be patrolling to ensure no one is obstructing lake access for wildlife air support craft.
The fire "demonstrated considerable growth" along its northern flank on Wednesday, stretching along the upper northeast side of Anderson Lake towards McGillivray Falls, according to the BC Wildfire Service.
Air and ground assets were deployed as the fire expanded throughout the day. A structural protection specialist will be assessing homes in the Ponderosa and McGillivray area prior to the installation of sprinkler protection units, the Wildfire Service said.
Ground crews have had to contend with tricky terrain while battling the blaze.
"Unfortunately the Grouse Creek fire is in some very difficult, steep and rocky terrain, and it's not safe to put fire crews on the ground there. We do have to use some air support when we're able," explained Collette Fauchon, provincial fire information officer for the Pemberton fire zone. "In other areas, it doesn't make sense to use air support because sometimes that can actually knock logs further down the hill that will spread fire. So there's really a strategy you have to look at in how you fight these fires."
Fauchon said four water tankers were flown in from Kamloops Monday and dropped water on the east flank of the fire, an effort that helped prevent the blaze from spreading to nearby hydro lines.
An evacuation alert issued by the SLRD remains in place for D'Arcy. An evacuation alert is issued to prepare residents to evacuate their premises if it's deemed necessary. Residents will be given as much advance notice as possible prior to an evacuation.
SLRD emergency program manager Ryan Wainwright advised residents in smoky areas to limit their outdoor activity and seek out public facilities if they need respite from the smoke.
"Things like limiting your exertion outside, especially if you have a pre-existing condition, and being aware of public buildings, whether that's ... community centres or recreation centres—they filter their air," he said.
Although a smoky skies bulletin remained in place for Whistler on Wednesday, Aug. 22, Environment Canada predicts the air quality to improve in the area this week.
"Winds are expected to change to a westerly direction beginning Wednesday (Aug. 22)," the bulletin read. "Coastal communities will see a gradual improvement in air quality as Pacific air moves onshore while Interior communities will likely see a deterioration in air quality from numerous wildfires that continue to burn."
At press time, Whistler's air quality was rated four, or "moderate risk." There is no need for the general population to modify their usual outdoor activities unless they experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation. The at-risk population should consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous outdoor activities if they experience symptoms.
Over the weekend, Whistler's air quality hit 10, or "very high risk," as thick smoke blanketed the corridor and limited visibility. The air proved a challenge for riders taking part in the final weekend of Crankworx, one of the busiest events on Whistler's summer calendar.
Canadian Open DH winner Troy Brosnan of Australia said he limited himself to a single practice run before the Aug. 19 race to minimize his exposure to smoke.
"The smoke was really destroying my lungs and throat," he said. "In that race run, I gave everything I had. I didn't hold back."
Runner-up Connor Fearon, also of Australia, said while the smoke was tough to deal with, all riders had to find ways through it.
"I only did two runs and stayed in my hotel room the whole day," he said. "Breathing that in doesn't make you feel very good."
Over in Pemberton, Slow Food Cycle Sunday went forward as planned on Aug. 20 after organizers debated whether to continue with the annual cycling and food tour along Meadows Road.
"We made the final decision on Friday to move forward because the air quality and everything looked great. Then, of course, smoke descended on us on Saturday, but at that point everyone was committed: the farms, the vendors, the volunteers, so we decided to go ahead with it," said event manager Carlee Cindric, who added that organizers were "pleasantly surprised" by the turnout of an estimated 2,000 people.
-With files from Dan Falloon