Jill Colton, staff writer
August 21, 2010 — The smoke in Williams Lake has been quite thick for nearly a week now, as a result of the fires burning near by. The Weather Network spoke with Williams Lake Fire Information Officer Radha Fisher about the ongoing situation.
The acrid smoke has been blanketing Williams Lake for almost a week now and they are definitely in the thick of things.
“The Meldrum Creek fire complex is an aggressive situation, and it's burning about 15 km from the town of Williams Lake. The winds are pushing from the west, moving east, so a lot of the smoke in the town is a direct result of that fire,” explains Radha Fisher, a Fire Information Officer for Williams Lake.
Dealing with thick black smoke is hardly an ideal living situation, however, that's what the residents of Williams Lake have had to deal with for the past week. “It's like a thick fog hanging over the city, you can't miss it. Everyone is affected by it, whether you can't go for your walk, your eyes burn and of course the health risks that go along with it. It's part of daily living, and it's very unfortunate.”
And it's not just the smoke that's affecting the air quality. “There is fly ash, it's ash and debris from the fires travelling with the smoke and it's showing up on people's cars and you see it in the air floating like snow.” In fact, the Air Quality Health Index for Saturday indicates that Williams Lake is at an 11 on the index scale, which is an extreme rating. The pollution level is the highest rated in the country.
The smoke is wafting out of control, so much so, that operations have been stalled. “Both Thursday and Friday, we could not put aircraft on some of our fire complexes. And on Thursday, specifically, we couldn't put any helicopters or air tankers on the Bull or Meldrum Creek fires, which are two of our largest and most disconcerting fires in the area.”
The mission becomes compromised because the operations people in the aircraft and the pilot can't see the targets through the smoke so it becomes a safety concern. “We see aviation operations as part of our complete picture of how we respond to fires. And when we can't use them, we have to change our objectives and tactics, and we've had to do this over the past few days,” explains Fisher.
Even worse, the thick soot is also posing serious safety and health threats for those helping battle the flames.“Just like in the town, our eyes are still burning and we feel it when we breathe. Now just imagine you're on the front lines battling these fires. Not only are you working hard on the ground but you're in direct contact with these flames and smoke.”