For many Whistlerites seeking respite from the hustle and bustle of a tourism town that hosts millions of visitors a year, Anderson Lake has proven a welcome refuge.
Located roughly 50 kilometres northeast of Pemberton, the area has long been a draw for local recreationalists and vacationers looking for a rustic alternative to the corporate sheen of Whistler. For the dozens of cabin-owners dotting the lake, it offers the chance to tune out from the usual rhythms of resort life, away from wi-fi coverage and even a potable water source.
In recent days, however, Whistlerites’ home away from home has come under threat due to the nearby Casper Creek wildfire, a suspected lightning-caused blaze that is approximately 2,000 hectares in size.
“There are fires raging above us and around us. It’s hard to say how close. The closest might be a thousand or a couple thousand feet. It’s on parts of our driveway,” said Greg Daniells, who co-owns a rental vacation property on the far north end of the lake, along with his family’s cabin on the opposite side of the lake.
At press time, the five-bedroom, two-bathroom property was surrounded by flames on both sides, as Daniells, co-owner Victor Beresford, and a team of helpers have done everything they can to keep the blaze at bay.
“We’ve created a line of defensive sprinklers that holds off the fire from the south side,” said Daniells. “The whole property is surrounded by thick, whole forest, so we’re just trying to create a perimeter to make sure it’s wet, and then fight the small fires with hoses and stuff up the hill.”
Lincoln Ferguson, who also owns a family cabin on the lake, said he initially called in the fire on July 11, when it was “just a wisp of smoke.” He watched in the ensuing days as the blaze spread quickly through the area.
"It’s awesome, as far as seeing the power of it,” he said. “We were down looking at the fire and it was on both sides of the [railway] tracks, as logs were rolling down. That’s what’s been causing a lot of the problems: logs on fire rolling down the hillside.”
There have so far been no structures damaged by the blaze, the SLRD said.
At press time, there were 27 wildfire personnel onsite fighting the fire, in addition to several aircraft providing support. Fire crews have reportedly been hampered by steep terrain and the fire’s erratic behaviour.
“That just changes your level of caution when it starts to behave in that way, and the fact that it’s at a Rank 4 and 5 in different areas—that’s as bad as it gets,” said Jen Ford, board chair of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD).
As extreme weather events increase in frequency, like the numerous wildfires burning across the province that have made this summer the worst fire season in B.C.’s recorded history, and more people move to remote locales like Anderson Lake, the level of concern only deepens, Ford added.
“The fact that fire activity and the intensity of the activity is really changing points us back to the need to take care and be mindful of how to build in these more remote communities,” she said. “I think it’s certainly concerning when you look at the resources you have in that area and what it will take to evacuate them. The more spread out we become in this province, it’s concerning, because we need more resources, the costs go up, and the reality of managing those fires becomes really difficult.”
As of July 25, an SLRD evacuation order applies to 192 parcels in Electoral Area B, including the entire area of Seton Portage and Tsal’alh, and a portion of Highline Road.
Residents under the evacuation order are asked to register with Emergency Social Services at the Lillooet Rec Centre at 930 Main Street, or by phoning 250-256-8524. An SLRD spokesperson said 207 people have registered so far in Lillooet, while a handful have registered in Kamloops.
An evacuation alert for the Downton Lake fire, meanwhile, applies to 186 parcels and an estimated 271 people in the Gun lake and Lajoie Lake area, in the SLRD's Electoral Area A.
The public is reminded to sign up for SLRD Alert to receive emergency notifications and updates at slrd.bc.ca/slrdalert.