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McCormick Creek wildfire forces Shambhala Music Festival to close one day early

Smoke from the McCormick Creek fire hovered over the tents at the Shambhala Music Festival. — Submitted photo

The McCormick Creek wildfire burning 20 kilometers south of Salmo in the Pend O’reille region has forced the Shambhala organizers to close down the 20th annual electronic music festival one day early — a decision that could cost upwards of $500,000..

The decision was made following extensive consultation Saturday between the Regional District of Central Kootenay Emergency Operations Centre, BC Wildfire Service, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, RCMP and, of course, Shambhala organizers.

“After those meetings this morning it was strongly suggested that we think about trying to get the population of the festival down in the event things got worse and we had to clear the site . . .  because clearly with this many people clearing the site would not happen as fast a people clearing from home,” event founder Jimmy Bundschuh said on a media conference call Saturday afternoon.

“So we began to notify guests to prepare to leave (Sunday). . .. Get their cars packed and begin to make travel plans.

“We will continue regular programing tonight and are cancelling programing for (Sunday) night,” Bundschuh added.

The BC Wildfire Service said the McCormick Creek fire has grown to an estimated size of 350 hectares.

The uncertainty of the fire Saturday prompted BC Wildfire to advise the RDCK EOC to put the area of Nelway on Evacuation Order immediately to protect residents from the wildfire in the vicinity, which included 39 properties.

The RDCK said BC Wildfire has also advised that the current active Evacuation Alert area be expanded to include the Shambhala Music Festival.

RDCK Regional Fire Chief and EOC Director Andrew Bellerby commended the Shambhala Music Festival organizers for putting the safety of festival goers first in making this difficult decision.

“After extensive consultation with the event organizers, they made the difficult decision which was advised by all the agencies present to close the festival down 24 hours early,” Bellerby said.

“I can’t state enough how much of a difficult decision that was for Shambhala and all the agencies are truly appreciative that they made the right decision to close the event down.”

Bundschuh said cutting a day off the festival means approximately a $500,000 in lost revenue.

“It’s a huge impact,” he said. “For 70 craft vendors and 17 food vendors. . . .. We always did Sunday (ticket) sales where locals would come to the show. I predict at least a half Million dollars in lost revenue."

“So this was a major decision on our part and we trust the team in Nelson that it’s warranted," he added.

"Public safety is number one to our organization so we just going with it.”

BC Wildfire Service said the McCormick Creek wildfire remains approximately nine kilometers southwest of Shambhala Music Festival and 20 kilometers from the Village of Salmo.

“It continues to burn south of the Salmo River,” Karlie Shaughnessy Fire Information Officer for the Southeast Fire Centre.

"There were reports earlier that the fire jumped the Salmo River. However, BC Wildfire crews pressed those spots so they are out and the majority of the fire is burning on the south side of the Salmo River."

"Any growth that is happening is on the east flank of the fire," Shaughnessy added.

The Shambhala Music Festival sent out a release on its website, cautioning festival goers of the decision and to be preprared to leave a day early.

  • Begin to pack your vehicle 
  • Remain sober 
  • Designate a driver 
  • Remain calm 
  • Be well rested 
  • Plan your route home

MOTI has also put all ferries in the region, Kootenay Lake, Galena Bay and Needles, on 24 hours shifts to accomodate any patrons wanting to leave the festival in the middle of the night.