The closure of recreational areas affected by one of the biggest wildfires in the history of the regional district is being recommended by a provincial report.
A Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (MFLNRORD) post wildfire risk analysis reconnaissance report for the Michaud Creek and Octopus Creek wildfires said the risk of waterborne hazards will be so high that it recommended recreational closures for the next three years.
High flood risk will so affect Gladstone, Van Houten and Octopus Hotsprings recreation sites that B.C. Recreation Sites and Trails should consider closing them, the report stated.
The Octopus Creek wildfire resulted in large areas of highly burned forest in watersheds which were already prone to debris flooding, noted report author Sarah Crookshanks.
“Following a wildfire, the chances of soil erosion, landslides and floods can increase. This risk can be enhanced with intense rainfall or rapid snowmelt,” she wrote in her report.
The ministry evaluated downslope and downstream risks to life, property and infrastructure, said Crookshanks.
“However, the elements at risk within the watersheds are limited to recreation sites, roads/bridges and several parcels of private property,” she wrote. “No dwellings were identified to be at risk from post fire natural hazards.”
Regarding Michaud Creek and Octopus Creek, the potential hazards to private water systems, infrastructure and recreation sites has greatly increased, Crookshanks explained.
“Domestic surface water users on creeks that fall within the fire perimeter may want to consider additional water quality treatment measures,” she said.
The regional district will be handed similar reports for the Trozzo Creek (6,023 hectares) and Akokli Creek wildfires in early 2022.
Tale of Octopus
The Octopus Creek fire began on July 11 and burned a large area on the east shore of Arrow Lake south of Fauquier.
Most of the land was Crown land, with a handful of parcels of private land along Arrow Lake having burned. Several dwellings along Applegrove Road were lost in the fire.
An aerial overview was completed for the fire on Oct. 1.
“No field work was undertaken, since the elements at risk from post-wildfire geohazards are limited to recreation sites, Applegrove Road and several parcels of private property,” Crookshanks said in her report.
“No dwellings were identified to be at risk from post fire natural hazards.”
Hot times in the forest
This year was an unprecedented season for wildfire in the RDCK, noted RDCK manager of Community Sustainability, Chris Johnson, in a release, and it was highlighted by Michaud and Octopus.
He said the Michaud Creek wildfire (14,032 hectares) started south of Edgewood on the west shore of Lower Arrow Lake, while the Octopus Creek wildfire (22,049 hectares) was near the communities of Fauquier and Applegrove on the east shore of Lower Arrow Lake.
“Both wildfires resulted in multiple evacuation alerts and evacuation orders,” said Johnson.
The 2021 fire season gained momentum earlier this year than was usual in the Southeast Fire Centre, which includes the entirety of the RDCK, said Kim Wright of the Southeast information team.
“Record levels of below average rainfall and the historic heatwave near the end of June resulted in extreme fire danger levels and burning conditions that are more typical of what is seen in August,” she said.
In the Southeast Fire Centre there was a larger 26,399-hectare fire in the Invermere Zone, while there were six other fires with more hectares burned than Octopus Creek in the 2021 fire season.
In the first half of June, the Southeast region received only 30 per cent of normal June rainfall, while temperatures rose steadily throughout the month, culminating in a historic heat wave that broke records and affected the entire province.
“The dryness and extreme heat raised the fire danger to extreme levels, and burning conditions were more typical of what is normally seen in August,” noted a wildfire season summary from BC Wildfire Service.
That resulted in a province-wide prohibition of all campfires and open fires on June 28, but dry and hot conditions persisted into July. In the first two weeks of July an average of 40 new wildfires started every day.
Source: RDCK, BC Wildfire Service