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Smoke settles over region

Smoke from wildfires blazing around the East Kootenay has settled over Cranbrook and Kimberley, but the fires themselves have not grown much in size.

There are now nine fires around Cranbrook and Kimberley, but no new fires have been detected since Tuesday, according to the B.C. Wildfire Management Branch.

The largest fire, at Whitetail Brook, about 10 kilometres east of Canal Flats, is now at 1,700 hectares.

"The growth has been towards the northeast, up Mount Glen. There has been no growth towards the south or the west," said Fanny Bernard, fire information officer for the Southeast Fire Centre.

It is now 50 per cent contained, with a Type 2 incident management team in charge.

Close by, the White Rock fire remains active at 650 hectares, but it hasn't grown in size.

"It was active overnight, but the activity was limited to perimeters inside the fire. There was fuels burning inside the area of the fire," said Bernard.

A fire just south of these two at Sharktooth Mountain is now at 40 hectares.

An area closure remains in place for Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park. There's no access to Whiteswan, Kootenay or White Rock Forest Service Roads.

The fire at Tanglefoot Creek, northeast of Cranbrook, is now at 15 hectares, but because of its remote location it is being monitored by the Wildfire Management Branch.

Meanwhile, three fires west of Cranbrook and Kimberley are also being monitored.

A three-person initial attack crew with helicopter support is responding to a spot fire at Perry Creek.

A 30-hectare fire at White Boar Lake is also being monitored, as is a 15-hectare fire at Meachen Creek.

There is a small spot fire at Arfil Mountain, north of Sparwood and very remote, with an initial attack crew responding.

And a 12 hectare fire at Kikomun Creek near Koocanusa is now 100 per cent contained and in the mop-up stage.

None of the fires are threatening any communities or structures, Bernard confirmed.

Meanwhile, hot, dry, windy weather conditions are making firefighting efforts more difficult.

"We are monitoring the weather situation closely," said Bernard. "It has been very warm and very dry and wind contributes to aggressive fire behaviour.

"It's because of this kind of weather that the campfire ban was put in place."

A campfire ban for the Southeast Fire District came into effect on Tuesday, August 5 and will continue until further notice. The ban extends to campfires, the burning of any waste, slash or other materials, stubble or grass fires, burning barrels, fireworks, sky lanterns, tiki torches and outdoor fire pits.

A smoky haze has settled over Cranbrook and Kimberley, but it's not clear whether the smoke is coming from local fires, or from fires elsewhere in B.C. or the western United States.

"It's hard to say exactly on any given day where smoke is coming from," said Bernard.

The Ministry of Environment has not issued an air quality advisory for Cranbrook and Kimberley, but local air quality meteorologist Donna Haga said residents should use common sense in choosing their activities this week.

"There is no real-time (air quality) monitor in Cranbrook or Kimberley so I don't have any access to current levels of smoke," said Haga.

"Currently air quality advisories are only issued in communities that have real-time monitors that measure particulate matter levels."

The closest real-time air quality monitors are located in Creston and Golden.

"There is a long-term plan to put a station in in Cranbrook; it just hasn't materialized yet."

But residents can observe the smoky haze over Cranbrook and Kimberley, and they should take that into consideration when outdoors this weekend, especially if they are vulnerable to poor air quality.

"It's not to say people shouldn't carry on with their daily routine. I would suggest that if people are noticing symptoms, they should stop (what they are doing) and perhaps go see their medical provider," said Haga.

However, Environment Canada issued a wildfire smoke advisory for the area around Creston on Thursday, August 7.

"Smoke concentrations will vary widely as winds and fire behaviour change," the advisory reads.

"Persons with chronic underlying medical conditions should postpone strenuous exercise until the advisory is lifted. If you are experiencing symptoms such as continuing eye or throat irritation, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing, follow the advice of your health care provider, particularly if you are elderly, have asthma, hay fever, breathing or lung conditions or if you react strongly to smoke."

To view a computer model of the air quality forecast across western Canada for the next three days, visit www.bcairquality.ca/bluesky/west/.

Meanwhile, the Wildfire Management Branch has called for the assistance of about 80 wildfire personnel from Australia, through a reciprocal agreement where B.C. and Australia help each other out during their respective fire seasons.

The personnel are not firefighters on the ground, Bernard said, but specialists such as incident commanders, fire behaviour specialists, and aircraft coordinators.

They will arrive over the weekend and will be deployed as needed throughout the province. It's not yet known whether any of the Australian personnel will be deployed to the East Kootenay.

To report a wildfire or unattended campfire, phone 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on most cellular networks.

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