The wildfire to the north of Cranbrook, B.C., has almost tripled in size since it was first discovered on Monday afternoon, resulting in the loss of several homes in an Indigenous community.
As of Tuesday, the B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS) estimated the St. Mary’s River fire to be about eight square kilometres in size — a significant increase from the three square kilometres it covered on Monday evening. Cranbrook is about a 146-kilometre drive west of the border with Alberta.
The BCWS now classifies it as a “wildfire of note” as of 2 p.m. PT on Tuesday.
A “wildfire of note” means the blaze is highly visible or poses a potential threat to public safety. According to the latest data from the BCWS, there are currently 23 fires of this category burning across the province, with most of them located in central and northern regions.
The ʔaq̓am Community, a member of the Ktunaxa First Nation, has issued evacuation orders for at least 50 homes on its reserve since Monday.
The community and the Regional District of East Kootenay have jointly issued evacuation alerts for 43 homes due to the St. Mary’s River wildfire.
An evacuation alert means residents should prepare to evacuate their homes with little to no notice. An evacuation order means residents should leave immediately.
Evacuation Alert area expanded in vicinity of St. Mary River Wildfire. A total of 43 dwellings are now on Evacuation Alert, including Ft. Steele Heritage Town: <a href=”https://t.co/iGD44Fff3F”>https://t.co/iGD44Fff3F</a><a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/RDEK?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#RDEK</a> <a href=”https://t.co/1RCkFiblXN”>pic.twitter.com/1RCkFiblXN</a>
Several homes burned in ʔaq�̓am reserve: chief
Nasuʔkin (Chief) Joe Pierre Jr. says it is still not safe for evacuated community members to return home as several homes have been completely burned down.
“They’re just not there anymore — standing chimneys, and that’s it,” Pierre said.
The BCWS has not confirmed to CBC News the exact number of homes lost to the St. Mary’s River fire.
Some residents, like Cheryl Casimer, says she is frustrated with the lack of information about the impact on their homes.
“There’s so many rumours going around … and then people are getting upset because they’re hearing that their house is potentially gone,” she said.
Radio West9:10CBC reporter Corey Bullock updates the situation of the St. Mary’s River wildfire in the Aq’am community, north of Cranbrook
Dan Wigle, who is worried about the fate of his house, says he is also grateful to be safe and appreciates the support his community is receiving.
“We have the Red Cross providing vouchers for emergency supplies. They are building big animal shelters over here,” he said. “[We’re] getting tons of support, everything’s taken care of.”
The wildfire has also led to flight cancellations at Cranbrook’s Canadian Rockies International Airport, west of the wildfire.
The airport gave priority to BCWS aircraft since 5:30 p.m. PT Monday, and re-opened by 7 p.m. the same day after air tankers completed their operations in the area.