Fire retardant is dropped on a forest fire on Rockwell Drive in Harrison Hot Springs on Monday evening. The fire is currently still burning

Fire had potential to destroy homes

Fast action by Forest Service crews credited for stopping blaze

A small forest fire that ignited along Rockwell Drive on Monday afternoon had the potential to destroy multiple million dollar homes.

If it weren’t for the close proximity of several lightning-caused fires in the Chehalis and Harrison Mills area, the fire would have quickly spread up the mountain and north to the homes along the lake.  Wayne Dyer, fire chief for the District of Kent, explained that because of those fires, B.C. Forest Service was in the area with all their equipment when the Rockwell Drive fire broke.

He said the Forest Service’s immediate ability to respond was what kept the fire from getting out of control. Four helicopters with monsoon buckets and an air tanker with fire retardant were used on the blaze, in addition to crews from both Harrison and Kent. Seventeen firefighters, four engines and a tender truck were called out.

“If it wasn’t for their quick action, in another half hour it would have been in the tall timber,” he said, and in the surrounding homes. “They hit it fast and they hit it hard.”

The fire was about .3 hectares in size, situated between Killer’s Cove Marina and the Harrison Yacht Club. It was burning from the roadside to about 400 feet up the mountain. Ground crews are able to suppress to about 100 feet in height, Dyer said, making the air attack crucial. The fire is what’s considered an interface fire, when forest fires are on the edge of a community. It’s something that fire crews in Harrison and Agassiz are prepared for.

As well, officials were busy working on enacting an emergency plan. The fire temporarily cut off Rockwell Drive to both residents and campers using the region. Rockwell Drive is the only paved road leading in and out of that area. Dyer said the emergency plan, through Emergency Social Services, was going into effect at the same time the fire was being put out. It did not have to be enacted, he added, but if a similar emergency were to occur, those affected would look to the District of Kent and the Village of Harrison for information on where to gather and how to receive assistance.

And while many have suggested the fire was started by a tossed cigarette, Dyer said investigators are still looking for a cause. It’s a possible theory, Dyer said. But it’s also possible the fire was started by hot slag from a passing diesel vehicle.

“We pinpointed the area of origin,” he said, and magnetic samples were taken.

About an hour after the fire started, the water bomber flew in and doused the flames with red retardant twice. Rockwell Drive was temporarily closed off as the fire was being contained. Homeowners and campers converged in parking lots, on the docks, and in the road, all cut off from their homes and campsites.

One woman worried whether her husband could secure the house, and if she could get her medication for the evening. Campers wondered whether they would be left to sleep in their vehicles in Harrison.

One Agassiz man noted that the same side of the mountain burned back in the late ’50s or early ’60s, and that his father fought that fire.

For more photos from the fire, visit the Observer on Facebook.

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