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Blackcomb fires provide anxious moments

Firefighters continue to battle blazes in Ruby Bowl and on Crystal Ridge



Forty-five firefighters remained on Blackcomb Wednesday, tackling two fires started by a lightning strike last week.

Neither fire appears to pose any imminent danger to lifts or other infrastructure on Blackcomb, but the tinder-dry forests and threat of further lightning have officials watching the situation carefully.

Doug Forseth, senior vice-president of operations for Whistler Blackcomb, said the resort is likely to see some thunderstorms in the next couple of days, though more than anything he just hopes for rain.

"Thunderstorms are my worst nightmare right now," he said Wednesday. "What we're seeing right now, again it's weather so you're never quite sure, there's a possibility of rain without lightning in the first part of the week Monday or Tuesday."

In the event of another storm, Forseth said Whistler Blackcomb will station someone at the peak of Whistler Mountain to monitor the weather because it provides a good vantage point to determine whether a storm is coming.

"If we have any strikes or lightning, we typically will put someone on the west side of the golf course over on River Hill and monitor over there as well," he said.

The first of the two fires was started by a lightning strike on the east side of Crystal Ridge on the afternoon of Thursday, July 30. Aerial and satellite surveys of the fire Friday showed the blaze at about 30 hectares in size, about 56 times the size of an American football field. That estimate was smaller than a Thursday evening measurement of 75 hectares.

Fixed wing aircraft and helicopters battled the fire Thursday afternoon. Large plumes of smoke and flames could be seen throughout the Whistler valley.

Three helicopters were on scene quickly, dropping water on the fire and refilling their buckets in a nearby pond. Fixed wing water tankers arrived and dropped fire retardant.

The fire was first reported at about 2:45 p.m. but Whistler Blackcomb had already evacuated all visitors and staff from the two mountains by about 2:30 p.m.

"We saw the lightning coming at about 1 p.m. and we stopped selling tickets and started moving people off the mountain," said Forseth.

He estimated there were about 300 people on Whistler Mountain at the time, and between 50 and 75 people on Blackcomb.

Whistler Blackcomb monitors lightning storms when they get within 100 km of the area.

The Crystal Ridge fire was 100 per cent contained and ground crews were keeping tabs on a few perimeter hotspots by Monday. But that afternoon a second fire flared up in the Ruby Bowl area at about 3:45 p.m. The Ruby Bowl fire was likely the result of "hold-over lightning" from the July 30 fire.