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Chief frustrated with how Crater Creek wildfire near Keremeos has been handled

Leaving it burn has led to evacuations at midnight and fire threatening homes, said Chief Crow
Lower Similkameen Indian Band Chief Keith Crow is critical with how the Crater Creek wildfire was handled, leading to the massive fire it is now. (RDOS Youtube)

Lower Similkameen Indian Band Chief Keith Crow aired his frustrations of leaving the Crater Creek wildfire southwest of Keremeos to burn and turn into the massive blaze it is now.

“We are seeing a lot of similarities to the 2018 Snowy Mountain fire,” Crow said during the Regional District of the Okanagan Similkameen emergency briefing on Tuesday. “The decision to leave it and let it burn and then we run into a situation where we are now doing evacuation orders all within an hour. I have to speak up for my community and for the people of this valley. We went from 1,000 hectares to 10,000 in one day. I called two weeks ago asking questions about what is going on, how are decisions being made and we’re not given answers.”

Crow told BC Wildfire Services that he was just on site and there were no helicopters actioning the fire. He was told other fires were more pressing and that poor visibility made it dangerous for aircraft.

“We evacuated 36 homes, roughly 75 people,” he said. “We had some who chose to stay. When are we going to start taking care of these fires? Who made the decision to monitor it? I’m very frustrated.”

Dale Bojahra of the BC Wildfire Service said the modified response was because of the remote steep terrain of the fires.

“We were working with Lower Similkameen Indian Band and we did have support for a modified response,” Bojahra said.“There are other fires that have immediate threat of life and property,” he added.

It was on Tuesday, Aug. 15 that winds merged the two Keremeos fires together sending a huge plume of smoke that could be seen as far as Kelowna.

Around midnight, 13 properties were evacuated with the RDOS and 31 within the Lower Similkameen Indian Band.

The RDOS added three more properties to the list of 74 previously under alert as well.

Wildfire activity is expected to increase dramatically across the province over the next 24 hours as a cold front pushes down from the north, bringing with it high winds and potential dry lightning.

READ MORE: Crater Creek wildfire grows to 14K hectares, more evacuation alerts added

Crow’s concerns about provincial communication came up during Thursday’s media briefing about the wildfire situation.

Forests Minister Bruce Ralston said BC Wildfire Service has satisfied some of Crow’s earlier concerns.

”Certainly, it’s very important to work with communities…and Wildfire Service has an exemplary record of working with local First Nations and and local communities to fight the challenges that we all face,” he said.

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Monique Tamminga

About the Author: Monique Tamminga

Monique brings 20 years of award-winning journalism experience to the role of editor at the Penticton Western News. Of those years, 17 were spent working as a senior reporter and acting editor with the Langley Advance Times.
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