Highway 1 east bound. Matti J Lagerbom photo.

July 17: “I’m seeing some optimism and some belief on the faces of the crew and that’s just huge”

“Huge progress today” on Ashcroft fire.

9:45 p.m. update: Good progress has been made on the Ashcroft Reserve fire (now labelled Elephant Hill), according to Fire Information Officer Mike McCulley.

“Long day today but we’re doing good,” says McCulley.

“The fire grew less in the last 24 hours than it has in several days. Fire activity is a little bit lower, the air is cooler as you can tell by the smoke laying down… which is a real advantage for fire suppression. It allows our crews to get right in there and start digging hard. Mostly good news, although the fire is still out of control and we’re being pretty cautious about safety of the crews, [we’re] making sure that everything’s in order as we try to get containment.”

McCulley says he was quite pleased with the results.

“I am really proud to say our crews made huge progress today. They’re making excellent work up the west flank and of course on the south as well. There’s some tricky ground on the south east corner. It’s steep and getting equipment in around there is causing some challenges,” he says.

McCulley adds that the recommendation to release the Cache Creek evacuation order shows how much progress they’ve been able to make in that area.

“When you get a calm wind and a little cooler weather it’s time to really get out there into the places where you haven’t been able to be because of active fire behaviour. It’s a great opportunity to start tying your lines together. You know, we brought in a lot more heavy equipment over the last two days so that we could make some big progress. We’re still actively doing burnoff operations to reinforce the guard lines.”

The current burnoff operations have been along Highway 97, the west edge of the fire, according to McCulley.

“They continue to just keep burning back from the control lines and tying those guard lines together and working up that side. You know that highway corridor is very important obviously for all the people in the area that are evacuated from all the communities. It’s a way in and out. It has the power lines and fibre optic, there’s homes along that area, so it has been a high priority since day one so they were burning in those areas and they will keep doing that as we go.”

While the highway is still closed, McCulley was optimistic about that as well.

“We are hopefully getting close to tying that off and making some progress to where we can get those highway corridors open.”

Overnight crews will continue working 24/7 on the fire, according to McCulley. He believes heavy equipment will be as well.

“The trick there is to stay safe when they’re out there in the dark. It’s not easy work. It definitely goes slower. [They’re] continuing to focus on that south east corner and the west flank. As we get the west flank tied in it will allow the crews to hopefully start trying to creep around the head of this fire on the north. Those are the objectives, tonight, tomorrow and beyond.”

McCulley did extend a word of caution to the public.

“The thing for us is as people start coming back to Cache Creek, it’s really important that they understand that this is still a very large active wildfire. We’ve got 240 ground crews out there plus all of our support staff – all of our pilots, all of our aircraft – it’s extremely important that people stay back and stay out of the way. Remember that they’re still on evacuation alert. That means they should be ready to go at a moment’s notice. We hope that that doesn’t have to happen but they’re in a volatile area and we need our crews to be able to move around and function safely. That gets really hard to do when people are out and about so as a result of that you are going to see a legal area restriction put on most of the fire area tomorrow which means it will be off limits for the public.”

McCulley said the Southern portion, labelled “Division A,” is going really well.

“We just had our briefing and they’re making huge progress… Because the wind has been blowing from the north, there’s still some fairly active fire on the south west side of Division A, but the crews are digging in hard. There is more burnoff operations planned in that area as well, so it’s going to be making smoke. [It’s] good news when we have these kind of conditions that allow us to burn and reduce fuel. We’re going to take full advantage of that and charge forward.”

There was a noticeable difference in the spirits of the crews fighting the fire.

“The indicator for me of how things are going are the spirits of the crew. When I go to a briefing and I can sense in the room that people are starting to feel that they’re achieving their objectives and they’re making a difference, that’s huge. You can see it on their faces and it looks really good. If you compare that to about three days ago when we were seeing ranked five and six fire, you know, that can be fairly discouraging. When you have to just get out of the way – its not what they’re here to do. They’re here to put their guard in, meet their objectives and get these communities back going. To me, very cautiously, I’m seeing some optimism and some belief on the faces of the crew and that’s just huge.

Original story: “A lot of smoke… It’s still really smokey here. Winds are still slightly out of the north. They haven’t turned around to the south yet,” says Fire Information Officer for the Ashcroft Reserve fire Mike McCulley.

Growth was relatively minimal over night, McCulley said cautiously.

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“We’re bringing in extra heavy equipment, additional crews and we’re going to really try hard to gain containment around the western edge of this fire and up to the north, we’re going to focus a lot of effort on that over the next few days and see how much headway we can gain,” he says.

“I expect that they’ll have challenging times once they get up to the head though. It’s still really active fire up there and if the winds switch back to the south it’ll cause even more fire behaviour, but that’s where they’re working a lot today.”

There are some controlled burns planned on the Clinton side during the next few days which would result in extra smoke, according to McCulley.

“The number of heavy equipment is going to go up. We’re taking this fire very seriously. It’s an extremely high priority for the province and just to assure people, our crews are still working hard. We will have new crews coming in once these ones get tired and are ready for a break. And we’re going to keep going at this fire trying to protect folks and their properties.”

A public meeting is scheduled for the village of Clinton at 5 p.m. at the Clinton Memorial Hall.

A new fire perimeter map is expected later today. Note, not all areas within perimeter are expected to be burned.