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Public meeting Thursday to share concerns about North Shuswap ignition, fire

Sparks to fly at fire meeting?

A public meeting will be held in the North Shuswap on Thursday to discuss concerns three months after a fire swept through the area, destroying hundreds of homes and forcing thousands to flee.

Jay Simpson, Columbia Shuswap Regional District director, said the forum will be held at the North Shuswap Community Hall in Celista on Thursday at 7 p.m.

“I do anticipate there's going to be questions and comments and people are going to be, to a certain extent, upset,” Simpson said.

“We really haven't had an opportunity for good catharsis, I guess you could say. I've had a couple of public meetings, but I've really kind of kept things under control.”

Simpson said the meeting has mostly been organized by Lee Creek resident Jim Cooperman, who will be presenting information he’s collected about a controlled ignition conducted by the BC Wildfire Service right before a wildfire swept into North Shuswap communities.

BCWS said in August that the back burn was conducted to remove fuels between the communities and the over 40,000 hectare fire before the wind direction changed towards structures located to the south.

At the time, BCWS said the planned ignition was conducted knowing there was already spotting from the out-of-control fire and was intended to reduce further spot fires near the communities of Lee Creek, Scotch Creek, Celista and Magna Bay.

Cooperman said he believes the planned ignition exacerbated the out-of-control wildfire, causing further damage to nearby communities, and has submitted complaints to the Forest Practices Board, who are now conducting an independent investigation into the province’s response to the wildfire.

“It's going to take them a while to complete their investigation, so as as part of their visit I prepared a PowerPoint presentation with all the evidence that I've collected since I've began work on this project,” he said.

“I thought that it'd be good for the community to see this PowerPoint and to see all the evidence that I've collected from all the research that I've done.”

Cooperman said those in attendance at the public meeting will have the opportunity to sign a letter with his complaints, which he plans to present to the province’s ombudsman in December.

Simpson said he expects the meeting to last around an hour and a half, and Cooperman’s presentation will take about an hour.

“I think it's an opportunity for the community to understand the details of the fire as we know it, and how that is going to the province to hopefully push them to make some changes in the BC Wildfire Service,” Simpson said.

The CSRD estimated 176 structures were destroyed and 50 were partially destroyed due to the out-of-control wildfire, from which officials say it will take as long as five years to recover.

The Skwlax band estimates 85 structures were destroyed on its land, and another nine were destroyed by the blaze in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported as a result of the wildfire.

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