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Lightning storm strands hundreds

Five fires still burning in corridor from weekend strikes



Hundreds of guests were stranded at the top of Whistler and Blackcomb Saturday during an explosive lightning storm.

When lightning storms move through the mountains it is normal protocol, said Whistler Blackcomb's Doug MacFarlane, to move guests to a safe location and then shut down the lifts.

On Saturday, since the storm lasted over four hours, guests spent longer than usual at the top of the mountain.

"We take care of them very well when they are stranded like that," said MacFarlane.

Guests were also offered rides down the mountains in trucks and vans if they needed to return to the valley.

Hundreds took advantage of that, said MacFarlane, adding that it was an especially busy night thanks to the Chill on the Hill concert.

"It would have been a great show," said MacFarlane of the lightning storm, which saw hundreds of electric jolts reach down to the earth looking for a terrestrial streamer to link up with.

With the extreme heat of the last week turning already-dry forests into potential kindling, Whistler Blackcomb is keeping a close eye on the fire situation. Blackcomb Helicopters has been contracted to do a fly over at the end of every day to make sure no fires are burning. People are banned from smoking on the mountains and sprinklers are on all over.

More thunderstorms are predicted for this weekend, which could mean more shutdowns on Whistler and Blackcomb.

It is estimated that more than 300 lightning strikes took place last weekend, with 28 fires lit up in the corridor. Most were extinguished quickly, but five continue to burn.

The largest of these is at 1,100 metres in the Copper Meadows area near Pemberton.

The fire flared up on Monday night and initial estimates pegged the fire at 391 hectares on Tuesday. New information suggests it is actually 190 hectares, though it did grow overnight, said Fire Information Officer Mike McCulley.

"It was tough to map with smoke yesterday," he said, adding that there are 20 ground crews working on the fire and several air tankers taking it on.

"Right now there's no homes or structures imminently threatened," McCulley said.

The other four fires are all at high elevation. One is in the Mamquam area, one along the West Hurley Forest Service Road, one in the Camel Hump area and one on Mount Currie. All are spot fires.

McCulley said the Camel Hump fire is actually two small fires but one of them is in "mop up" status, which means the fire is contained.