At about 4 a.m. Saturday morning, Bud Gottfriedson was woken up by a phone call saying a grassfire was burning just up from his house at the side of Highway 3 near the Lower Similkameen Indian Band office.
“All of us neighbours got a phone call,” he said Saturday afternoon. “It’s quite the adrenaline rush being woken up at 4 a.m. because of fire.”
A home support worker attended the house shortly after the call to evacuate his wife, who is in a wheelchair, and take her to the band office.
He and his daughter Rachel stayed to help fight the grassfire with neighbours.
As he and others started to work on the smaller fire burning up on the highway, a second fire, this one closer to his house, was spotted.
“I was standing by the tractor, so I could do a fire line or something. Then the fire popped up down below us. It was a little tense, the wind was blowing pretty good. The wind was blowing straight at us,” he said.
Gottfriedson said about six homes were in the area of the grassfire.
The Keremeos Volunteer Fire Department pulled its trucks and members from suppression efforts on Chopaka Road where 21 properties have been evacuated and are under threat from the Snowy Mountain wildfire. Other volunteer departments in neighbouring commutnies deployed to provide mutual aid for Keremeos also attended the grassfire.
Gottfriedson said the fire spread quickly and was about 70 metres from his home while it was a “stone’s throw away,” from other homes.
“It was close. I have a couple of out buildings on the property, tractors and farm vehicles all over the yard and horses in the barn,” he said.
The fires forced the closure of Highway 3 in the area for several hours in the early morning.
Crews and residents worked for about six hours to put the fires out. Several firefighters stayed to monitor for hot spots.
“It was too much stress for 4 a.m.,” he said.
BC Wildfire is investigating the cause of the fire, which they have deemed to be human-caused.
After taking about an hour nap after the fire was out, Gottfriedson took a helicopter ride to check on his grazing land on top Snowy Mountain.
He said his grazing area was untouched by the fire, but several other parcels of ranch land were torched.
“Imagine looking up there and there is nothing left but match sticks standing and the ground looks like briquets. The ground is grey and the trees are black,” he said.
Gottfriedson, who grew up in the area, said he’s never seen a fire like this.
“I’ve heard about 50 years ago or more, there was a big fire like this. But this is the biggest fire I’ve seen other than the few I’ve seen burning in Washington and Montana,” he said.
At the time of this posting the Snowy Mountain fire was almost 11,000 hectares in size and was considered out of control and zero per cent contained.