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Pemberton fires could last into fall

Sprinkler systems helping contain Camel’s Back and Copper Mountain blazes

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The blazes may have dissipated, but firefighters could be tackling fires in Pemberton right into the fall.

At about 838 hectares and 657 hectares respectively, the Copper Mountain and Camel's Back East fires remain close to last week's sizes in surface area, but both are now 100 per cent contained.

Garry Horley, a fire information officer with the Forest Ministry's Wildfire Management Branch, said it's going to take a long time to put out the fires on both mountains.

"It'll probably be patrolled far into September," he said in an interview.

To battle the fires crews have constructed a sprinkler system along the base of Copper Mountain as a way to speed up "mop up work." The system starts up at the end of the day and wets down about 10 metres of the fire edge for about four hours. A similar system is being followed for the Camel's Back fire.

Hoses have been laid out to a distance of about 8.5 kilometres along the fire's perimeter and will be gradually moved in from the fire's edge. About 35 per cent of the fire was inaccessible for ground crews because of steep terrain.

"We're concentrating on the fire perimeter," Horley said. "Right now we have sprinkler systems set up along the lower edge of both of those fires and that's going to speed up our mop-up a bit.

"When the crews leave at night they turn the sprinklers on and they'll run for about four hours until the pumps run out of gas. It wets it down really well, but there could be the odd smoke show up for quite a while. I think that they're going for 100 per cent extinguishment."

Horley went on to say that crews use GPS coordinates to track hotspots in the fire and then try to put it out - but that was made more difficult by the steep terrain they found on Copper Mountain and the Camel's Back. He said fires spend a lot of time burning deeply underground and that crews could end up watching hotspots until the snow falls.

"There could be hotspots certainly burning in there until the fall, without a doubt," he said.

Zdenek Los, who with wife Delores has a home at the base of Copper Mountain, was ordered to evacuate during the fire but opted to stay and assist fire crews with his knowledge of the area and the terrain.

An immigrant from the former Czechoslovakia, he moved to Pemberton 26 years ago and has since made a home beneath the mountain. He admits there were difficult nights during the fire but he doesn't regret staying through. If he really had to leave, Los said he had a boat about 100 feet from his house on the LIllooet River, providing what he calls an easy escape.

He went on to say the fire came as close as 500 metres from his house - close enough that he could see it from his front porch on the slopes across the road.

"For about three nights, we took turns to sleep for a couple of hours and up for two hours," Los said. "One night, it was a Thursday I believe, the fire reached the road between the river and the mountainside. It was coming towards our gate, so we brought a fire pump and we had a big sprinkler so the fire could not go below the bluffs towards our house."

Today the fire is contained, Los said, but there remain hotspots in the middle of the territory and he still sees columns of smoke near the Howe Sound Outdoor School down the road.

Across from his house he sees a ridge of dead brown trees, the aftermath of a fire that has now ravaged the terrain since late July.

Elsewhere in the province, evacuation orders have been lifted at the Seton Portage area from Puck Creek and southeast of Seton Lake to the start of Anderson Lake Road at Seton Portage. They have also been lifted on the north shore of Seton Lake from Retaskit to Puck Creek, as well as the northeast shore of Seton Lake near the District of Lillooet.

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