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Helicopter pilot rescues B.C. hikers from Horsethief Creek wildfire near Invermere, B.C.

Sage Randle had been eager to hike Mount Bruce near Invermere, B.C., and earlier this week, the 26-year-old from Sechelt on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast was finally able to go. 

Randle and two friends began their hike around 11 a.m., and reached the summit by early afternoon. 

Once there, however, they noticed something else with the view. 

“There was a tiny plume of smoke, and at first we were like, ‘Is that a dust storm or is that smoke?'” Randle told host Sarah Penton on CBC’s Radio West.

“Within minutes it was growing huge,” Randle said. “It was like a huge mushroom of smoke and we could see flames … it was so windy up there.

“I was just scared.”

Radio West12:46An Invermere woman shares the tale of her helicopter rescue from Mt. Bruce after getting stuck on the mountain after a wildfire broke

An Invermere woman shares the tale of her helicopter rescue from Mt. Bruce after getting stuck on the mountain after a wildfire broke

When it was discovered by the B.C. Wildfire Service on Mount Bruce around 2 p.m. MT on Monday, July 24, the Horsethief Creek wildfire near Invermere, B.C., was less than one square kilometre in size. Invermere is a small community in eastern B.C., near the border with Alberta.

By Wednesday morning, it had grown to nearly 10 square kilometres, becoming one of the province’s 20 “wildfires of note” — meaning it posed a significant threat to public safety.

‘We ran out waving our arms and hiking poles’

As Randle and her friends descended the trail back to their car in the foothills, the smoke approached them rapidly, forcing them back up toward the summit.

“Whenever we hike, we’re prepared for injuries, we’re prepared for encounters with wildlife, we’re prepared to have to spend the night if something went wrong, [but] we’ve never prepared for a fire to stop us from being able to return to the car,” she said.

A man with hat, T-shirt and shorts is talking on the cellphone while standing on a hill, with a large plume of smoke in the background.
Sage Randle’s friend was calling 911 from the summit of Mount Bruce near Invermere, B.C., as smoke from the Horsethief Creek wildfire rapidly approached. (Submitted by Sage Randle)

They called 911 for help from a search-and-rescue team, and while still on the phone, a local tour operator’s helicopter appeared.

“We ran out waving our arms and hiking poles at them, and they circled down and landed,” Randle said.

“They didn’t even ask us anything — they just explained really quickly how to get into the helicopter. They got us [to] take off our bags, they took our poles and bear spray from us, and threw them in the basket outside.

“Within minutes, we were in the helicopter.”

‘Always a good feeling when nobody’s hurt’

Pilot Greg Flowitt from Glaciers Helicopters said his crew had come from another wildfire site but decided to check Mount Bruce, popular for its hiking trail. 

An experienced fire rescue worker, Flowitt said he was relieved the hikers were unharmed.

“It’s always a good feeling when nobody’s hurt and at the end of the day, they get out,” he said.

Three people sit on a mountain ground, with the left one holding a sandwich.
Sage Randle said they took about two hours to climb to the top of Mount Bruce, where they first noticed the smoke from the wildfire. (Submitted by Sage Randle)

During the flight, Flowitt asked whether Randle and her friends wanted to go directly to Invermere or head to the parking area to get their car before the wildfire blocked the road.

Randle said they chose to retrieve their car, and eventually managed to drive down the mountain.

After dropping them off, Flowitt said he had to leave right away due to limited fuel remaining.

Randle said she plans to show her appreciation by thanking Flowitt and his crew.

“I can come by and bring them some beer and chocolate, because we definitely owe them that and more.”

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