Summer forest fires continue to burn near Whistler 

Hazy sky over Whistler coming from fires at Culliton Creek, Birkenhead and Elaho

click to enlarge BY ANDREW MITCHELL - HAZY AIR: Smoke haze from fires burning visible throughout Whistler.

Whistler skies were hazy and there was a smell of burning wood on Thanksgiving Monday as a result of forest fires still burning in the region - including one small fire that resulted from a lightning strike more than two months ago and only made it to the surface this week after smoldering underground.

According to Donna MacPherson, information officer for the Coastal Fire Centre, the dry conditions have allowed the fires to continue for far longer than might be expected.

Both of the large fires in the area are modified response fires, which means they don't threaten people, property or infrastructure and are within the BC Parks system.

"We work with the land manager, and in this case that's BC Parks," she said. "In this case they would allow the fires to burn to meet the ecological needs of the park. Fires are a natural part of the landscape."

The Culliton Creek Fire started on Aug. 15 to the north and east of Squamish in Garibaldi Provincial Park. It maxed out at roughly 46 hectares in size, and is continuing to smoulder at the ground and root level, burning debris.

The Birkenhead Lake fire maxed out at 135 hectares, and started on Aug. 19. The affected area is about 12km northwest of Birkenhead Lake Provincial Park, in a conservancy area managed by BC Parks.

Both fires were attacked in the beginning using helicopters and buckets, but were left to burn after the initial flare up.

The newest fire is a two-hectare burn in the upper Elaho area. It likely started as a result of a lightning strike on Aug. 6 or 7. The fire went underground and continued to smoulder before emerging from the ground on Oct. 5.

That fire is on Crown land under management of the province, and as a result a fire response team was sent to the area immediately. Crews were still mopping up on Monday.

"That tells you how dry the forest is," said MacPherson. "The fire went underground after the lightning strike and has smouldered all that time. There's just not enough moisture in the soil to put it out.

"It's probably too small to be contributing to smoke in the Whistler area, but it's one of the fires out that way and could be having a small impact."

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