Richter Mountain blaze nearing summit

You can smell the smoke long before you see it.

It is coming down from Richter Mountain, wafting along a crease about 18 km west of Osoyoos on Hwy. 3. You won’t see the smoke until you make the turn past Nighthawk and head north toward Cawston and Keremeos.

Even then, what greets you first are warning signs — Smoke on highway. Watch for falling rock. No stopping. — and finally the charred remains of a fire that moved up the mountain so quickly that only the bottoms of trees are scarred.

No firefighters are visible. They’ve moved up the mountain with the fire, now working ahead of it with heavy equipment to build a machine guard on the north and east portions of the fire.

Nevertheless, the fire is there. The lightning-ignited blaze, which was first reported July 24 after an intense electrical storm passed through the area the previous evening, is still listed as active — although not as out of control.

It is approaching the north summit of Richter Mountain.

“It’s 404 hectares as of this morning — so minimal growth since yesterday,” says Fire Information Officer Jody Lucius. “We have quite a low level of fire activity today, primarily smouldering ground fire, which obviously is good news.”

Shifting wind patterns are challenging fire suppression efforts, which today will involve upwards of 140 firefighters on the ground and eight choppers, the helicopters bucketing water to cool and slow down fire activity.

A BC Wildfire Service crew that had spent the night on Richter Mountain prepares to head home for a rest.

“Today, we’re putting a little less emphasis on air support and allowing the crews to do the job on the ground,” said Ms. Lucius. “They are working in some extremely steep terrain with loose rock so site safety is obviously a priority for us right well.”

Crews, she added, are working around the clock.

“There’s actually a little bit of fire on the backside of the mountain as well,” she added. “Our effort is also focused back there, especially with the helicopters the last 24 hours as well.”

Although a road to the summit is open, the Wildfire Service is asking users to be careful as a staging area is in place and heavy traffic is using the road for access.

The Richter Mountain fire is one of just two “Wildfires of Note” in the province today, the other in the northwest fire centre. It consists of a series of “holdover” spot fires from the previous wildfire season that have smouldered through the winter.

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