Sun Peaks empty, Whistler on extreme fire alert 


Fire Chief Bruce Hall called to Kamloops to help the effort

Assistant Fire Chief Rob Whitton has only one word to describe the current parched conditions in Whistler - "explosive."

"Everything around here is just ready to go," he said earlier this week.

As other parts of B.C. grimly battle one of the worst forest-fire crises in provincial history, local firefighters are also on the alert with the fire hazard rating sitting at extreme in Whistler.

Over the weekend the fire department was called out three times just to put out fires caused by discarded cigarettes.

"We've been fortunate that they were spotted early, that they were small and that we were able to mitigate them in a timely fashion," said Whitton.

Meanwhile, Sun Peaks resort is following a zero tolerance policy for smokers as two devastating fires continue to blaze only 20 kilometres from the resort, with more fires in the surrounding areas.

A cigarette caused at least one of those fires.

There will be no smoking on the mountain or golf course for the rest of the summer. In fact, smokers will only be able to light up in designated spots within the Sun Peaks village.

"That's probably our more important preventative measure right now," said Jeff Putnam, executive director for the Sun Peaks Resort Association.

Last weekend was supposed to the Canadian Mountain Biking festival at Sun Peaks and instead of it being one of their busiest summer weekends, the place turned into a ghost town literally overnight.

Sun Peaks evacuated roughly 500 guests and workers last weekend when a fire evacuation notice arrived from the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

At that time the McLure-Barrier fire to the northwest was moving away from the resort but the Strawberry Hill fire to the southwest, just outside of Kamloops, was getting bigger and closer to Sun Peaks. Putnam called it "surreal" seeing two large mushroom clouds on the horizon blowing from different directions.

Staff put their emergency response protocol into place immediately after the evacuation notice, asking all business owners, residents and guests to leave voluntarily to be on the safe side.

"It was a very orderly evacuation," said Putnam, who was one of about two dozen staff who remained behind.

"People weren't panicked but they were definitely scared not knowing what the situation was."

Right away staff disconnected all the computer servers and ensured businesses were locked up. Eight snow guns pumped water onto and around the village core and workers built fireguards.

They also set up an around the clock fire watch atop the mountain.

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