Additional firefighters, heavy equipment and aircraft were being added to the stubborn Mount Hayes wildfire near Ladysmith on Saturday.
Officials say the fire was contained to 70 hectares overnight as crews used excavators and logging equipment to establish “fire-breaking control lines” on the eastern slope of the mountain.
The wildfire, which is in steep terrain, continued to fill the area with heavy smoke throughout the day, and a state of emergency remained in effect for the region.
In an update late Saturday afternoon, the B.C. Wildfire Service said “significant portions of the fire have burned to control lines and are now contained.”
With the arrival of additional firefighters, crews were pushing control lines and laying hose into challenging terrain on the northeast flank of the fire.
Officials rated the status of the blaze late Saturday as “a low vigour surface fire with open flames, but no organized flame front.”
The Cowichan Valley and Nanaimo regional districts issued an evacuation alert Friday for 20 properties on Takal, David and Ivy roads, with residents on standby to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.
The Bush Creek Fish Hatchery and a liquefied natural gas storage facility operated by Fortis B.C. have already been evacuated, but are being staffed with essential personnel to maintain operations.
The fire does not pose an immediate threat to the Fortis B.C. facility, the B.C. Wildfire Service said.
The 20-hectare LNG facility is located six kilometres northwest of Ladysmith on Ninatti Road, about a kilometre west of the blaze. The storage facility is supplied by Fortis B.C.’s existing pipeline systems and holds 1.5 billion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas. It was built in 2011.
The Bush Creek Fish Hatchery, east of the fire, is run by the Ladysmith Sportsmans Club and raises coho and chum salmon. The Cowichan Valley Regional District is asking people to avoid the area, including the Cowichan Valley Regional Trail.
Julia Cancari, spokeswoman for the Coastal Division Wildfire Service, said excavators are removing ground fuel and building control lines “designed to stop the fire in its tracks.”
As of Saturday morning, there were 56 firefighters, five helicopters, four water-tender stations and six large pieces of heavy equipment working on Mount Hayes, she said.
She said the size of the fire remained about the same as Friday, “but this could change depending on conditions.”
Fire departments from North Oyster, Ladysmith and the Cowichan region are working with wildfire personnel in the effort.
Meanwhile, posts on the a Ladysmith Community Facebook page are warning curious onlookers to stay out of the area near the fire.
“People are blocking the roads to the locals and firefighters,” Rachelle Vaughn said in a post. “I know it is interesting but you are not helping.”
Kelli Hanlan Lawrence said she was jolted awake Friday night by a male voice on a loudspeaker advising them to evacuate their house. “I think it was a prank — kids thinking they are funny driving by. Hard to get back to sleep after that one.”
Due to the changing wind patterns, Ladysmith and surrounding areas were experiencing increased wildfire smoke on Saturday morning. The town is about 4.5 kilometres from the fire.
Health officials say smoke can affect each person differently, based on their health, age and exposure. People should limit their exposure by staying indoors and watch for symptoms such as eye irritation, runny nose, sore throat, mild cough, wheezing or headaches.
The Regional District of Nanaimo’s call centre at 250-390-0940 is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today to respond to questions.
The Cowichan Valley Regional District operations centre phone line is 778-402-9596.