UPDATE: Highway 7 brush fire now spanning 100 hectares

Fire crews on scene

Highway 7 remains fully closed between Chowat Road and Johnson Slough as fire crews continue to battle a now 100-hectare brush and grass fire approximately four kilometres north of Seabird Island Road.

The fire is considered ‘out of control’ by BC Wildfire Service, who have helicopter and ground crews with heavy equipment battling the blaze as it burns uphill, west of Highway 7.

BC Wildfire tweeted Friday that firefighters are building control lines and helipads for improved access.

The fire started Wednesday morning and completely closed Highway 7 in both directions between Seabird Bluffs and Johnson Slough rest area Wednesday afternoon, but briefly re-opened to single-lane traffic that night.

The Agassiz Fire Department was dispatched Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

“When the first trucks arrived they encountered a fast moving wildfire travelling up the mountain side into the forest,” deputy fire chief Gerald Basten told the Observer.

The blaze continued spreading due to the dry ground conditions and high temperatures – reaching approximately one hectare in size, 25 hectares by Thursday afternoon, 50 by Friday morning and 100 by Friday night.

In a media release, the Upper Fraser Valley Regional Detachment said the blaze appeared to start from a vehicle with a flat tire.

Agassiz, Popkum and Seabird Island fire departments were on scene, working with BC Wildfire bombers and four helicopters dumping water buckets and deterrent on the brush and grass fire.

An Agassiz firefighter reportedly suffered heat stroke while fighting the blaze and was transported to Chilliwack General Hospital while another was taken back to the fire hall to recover.

Seabird Island Band posted on Facebook at 5 p.m. Wednesday evening and stated there are no unforeseen dangers to Seabird residents at the time, but smoke was creating poor air conditions in the area.

Seabird Island Band Chief Administrative Officer Daryl McNeil pulled over on the side of Highway 7 Thursday night and saw a pretty dramatic scene. He can’t remember the last time there was a wildfire this close to the band.

“You could see red streaks from the bottom of the hill with some flare-ups. It was about three quarters of the way up the mountain with lots of hot spots,” he said.

But by Friday morning the hills north of Seabird Island were concealed by thick smoke.

McNeil said that for now, the main concern remains air quality.

“The smoke is most eminent for us right now, as well as local travel,” he said, adding that the band is advising the elderly people, children and anyone with breathing issues to stay inside.

Highway 1 is being recommended as an alternate route for motorists at this time.

Updates to come.

The eastern Fraser Valley is set to high risk on the air quality index, but is set to moderate by Saturday.

Emergency Management B.C. is urging caution as poor air quality can be harmful to the health of infants, young children, the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions.

Suggestions include:

  • Reduce the amount of time spent outdoors, stay hydrated and avoid rigorous outdoor activities.
  • When indoors, keep the air clean (windows/doors closed, no smoking, no burning fireplaces/candles/incense, no vacuuming).
  • Consider buying a commercially available HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter and creating a clean-air shelter in one room of your home.
  • In a vehicle, keep windows closed with air conditioning set to recirculate.
  • Visit places with air conditioning, such as shopping malls, community centres, swimming pools, public libraries, etc., as they often have cleaner, cooler air than smaller buildings or the outdoors.
  • People with asthma or other chronic illness should activate their personal care plans, and ensure they have an adequate supply of life-saving medication with them at all times.

With files from Ashley Wadhwani.

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On Wednesday morning the blaze was only 1.5 hectares. The Agassiz fire crew called in help from Popkum, Seabird and the province to fight the grass and brush fire. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)

A grass fire off of Highway 7 has now closed the highway past Chowat Road.

Fire crews were on scene at the brush fire Wednesday morning, reportedly started by a vehicle with a flat tire.

The blaze was growing up and away from Highway 7, but crews shut down the road so they could have full access to the fire. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)

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