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Hectic start to wildfire season

A helicopter over one of this weekend
A helicopter over one of this weekend's fires near Keremeos
— image credit: Contributed by Mack McGiverin

Two blazes in the South Okanagan-Similkameen are early indicators of a busy season for the B. C. Wildfire Management Branch.

“It is definitely of concern. Since April 1, 34 fires are all suspected to be human-caused,” said Kayla Pepper, fire information officer for the Wildfire Management Branch.

On Friday a wildfire was discovered in the Inkaneep area, northeast of Osoyoos. It is estimated at 80 hectares in size and an investigation is ongoing to determine the cause.

Firefighters and a helicopter continue to keep an eye on the activity with the hope that some needed precipitation falls in the area which is a mix of rock faces and tightly knit understory of grass and twigs.

Pepper said more than half of the wildfires across B.C. this season have been located in the Kamloops Fire Centre, and all have been human-caused.

“Once that snow melted all the dead grass became quite combustible,” said Pepper. “The lack of precipitation we had and erratic winds did cause some open burning piles to escape causing wildfires.

“In other areas we saw an abandoned party fire and a number of other person caused fires. These are preventable.”

“We want to allocate our resources to naturally occurring fires like lightening, which generally come later in the year.”.

In British Columbia, the Wildfire Act specifies a person’s legal obligations when using fire in or within one kilometre of forest land or grassland.

If an outdoor burn escapes and causes a wildfire, the person responsible may be held accountable for damages and fire suppression costs.

Pepper said checking with municipal and local authorities to determine if open burning is permitted is the first step to take.

She added going to the B.C. Wildfire website (www.bcwildfire.ca) is another resource that should be used to ensure the right measures are being taken to prevent a fire from escaping.

Another wildfire is burning at the junction of Barcelo Road and Highway 3, southeast of Keremeos and Cawston.

It started on Sunday and is estimated at 84 hectares in size.  Rapidly warming temperatures, sunny skies and gusty winds on Friday contributed to a stubborn wildfire that burned its way up Pincushion Mountain near Keremeos.

A hayfield and barn were threatened, with the potential for the fire to spread to other structures at one point, but firefighters managed to prevent any property losses.

Firefighters were fortunate the westerly winds moved it away from properties on the valley floor and managed to get a handle on it.

Both of the Keremeos-area fires were caused by humans. Keremeos fire chief Jordy Bosscha is concerned the recent outbreak of wildfires could be a harbinger of a busy season to come.

“We’ve still got 120 per cent of normal snow pack to come down from the mountains,” he said, “but it’s bone dry on the valley floor right now.”

The Kamloops Fire Centre asks if you see flames or smoke, call 1-800-663-5555 toll-free or dial *5555 on your cellphone.

 

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