Fire season not over for Okanagan

Planes drop fire retardent admist an eerie backdrop of smoke on Sunday in this photo taken near the Coquihalla connector during a wildfire in the Trepanier area of Peachland that consumed four homes and outbuildings and 200 hectares. - Aaron Snyder/Nothingman Photography
Planes drop fire retardent admist an eerie backdrop of smoke on Sunday in this photo taken near the Coquihalla connector during a wildfire in the Trepanier area of Peachland that consumed four homes and outbuildings and 200 hectares.
— image credit: Aaron Snyder/Nothingman Photography

A wildfire causing over one thousand to be put on evacuation notice is a stern reminder that fire season is still upon the Okanagan.

“With the cooler temperatures and precipitation, Penticton is at a moderate to high danger fire rating and it is high really from Summerland south to the border,” said Michaela Swan, fire information officer. “It is pretty typical for this time of year until we really get the rains and cooler temperatures in the fall we wont see that rating change.”

Trevor Smith, meteorologist with Environment Canada, said a high pressure ridge is holding onto warmer conditions with temperatures hovering in the 20s until after the weekend. In other words, we won’t see a lot of precipitation for awhile yet if the ridge holds on.

Smith said so far in September they have recorded 3.2 millimetres of rainfall in Penticton and the average for the month is 24.7.  A deficit was also recorded for Penticton in August with only four mm of rainfall and the normal being 30.7 mm.

Weather mounted one of the biggest challenges in the Trepanier fire that broke out Sunday afternoon in Peachland.

Four houses and several outbuildings were casualties after gusty winds caught hold of the flames. This put officials on edge, concerned that the number of houses lost in the fire could rise if the weather continued. Crews have been working around the clock since Sunday afternoon to get a hold on the blaze. As of Tuesday afternoon the fire was 75 per cent contained.

Out of the 1,500 Peachland residents that were alerted to leave, many left with just the clothes on their backs, their pets and a few personal belongings.

Charles Kilpatrick, had a bit more time. He was able to spray down the outside of his house with water and left when he saw two houses on fire — one in the Desert Pines area and another above the Hainle Vineyards Winery.

Kilpatrick said even though he has lived in the area for seven years and can recall other wildfires, Sunday’s blaze in Peachland was “eerie.” At its height, the wind was estimated to be blowing at 40 kilometres per hour with gusts up to 60 km/h.

Two homes in the Trepanier area went up in tandem, and all efforts to save them were stymied.

“This was a wind-driven event,” stressed Jim Mottishaw, a forest protection officer who helped co-ordinate the air assault, noting the fire moved three km over the course of an hour.

That said, he’s confident the damage was kept at a minimum despite windy and dangerous conditions.

“Besides the homes lost, there are quite a few painted red (from retardant),” he said.

That and the burnt husks of trees around a number of residential houses should offer some insight into how narrowly damage was averted, he said, noting that the Ponderosa golf course may be the unsung hero of the firefight.

Years previous, when trees were removed and the area was landscaped, a fire barrier was inadvertently built and that helped the battle on the Trepanier side of the fire.

That’s in part how crews gained the upper hand there — reporting containment on that side of the fire — but the Pincushion side of the mountain is another story. The challenge is putting out hotspots and burning that are spread over a significant swath of land.

Speculation of the cause of the fire has run rampant and everything from a house fire gone wild to a stray meteor and discarded cigarette have been tossed around as theories. Officials said the cause is still under investigation.

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