On alert: Firefighters waging war near Penticton

 An air tanker drops fire retardant on a two-hectare fire in Penticton Thursday afternoon. Two air tankers and two helicopters fought the fire along with members of the BC Wildfire Management branch and Penticton Fire Rescue. - Mark Brett/Western News
An air tanker drops fire retardant on a two-hectare fire in Penticton Thursday afternoon. Two air tankers and two helicopters fought the fire along with members of the BC Wildfire Management branch and Penticton Fire Rescue.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

His young family ready to flee at a moment’s notice, Mark Kildaw spent a sleepless night Tuesday watching the flames from a wildfire roaring down the hillside in his direction.

“It was like a light show, the trees were going up there would be a lot of smoke and poof it would it ignite and there would be a big fire for about three to five minutes, like a torch and then it would jump to the next tree and you could just see it moving across and down the mountain,” said Kildaw.

Wednesday, flames could still be seen behind his neighbour’s large wooden barn across the road. “We have two little boys (ages one and three) and earlier we packed as much as we could into our truck, our car and our tent trailer and were ready to go at about one o’clock (a.m.). I came out to talk to the neighbours about two. I eventually went to sleep in the chair and my wife (Carla) got up. When I woke up at 5:30 a.m. the neighbour’s house was in jeopardy, there were flames all around it but they saved it.”

Things improved enough that Kildaw decided to go to work in Penticton however he soon got a call from Carla telling him to come quickly because conditions had worsened. During the day Wednesday they spent time helping a neighbour water down his structures and keeping the sprinklers running on their own roof.

“I think today the way things are going my wife is going to take the boys to her parents in town and I’m just going to hang out here, it’s a scary situation and we don’t need to risk that,” said Kildaw.

According to Jim Mottishaw, incident commander and fire zone protection manager for the Wildfire Branch there were a number of close calls that night .

“Last night you saw how close it got to some of these houses, it was just metres away from the one home but we had crews there with the landowner so we’re quite sure we’re going to slow its progress so it doesn’t impact them,” he said. “Right now we’re only tending to the interface.

“The priorities are around the homes so that fire will grow upslope, we have no manpower.”

As of Thursday, evacuation alerts remained for 13 properties in the area. The fire was 50 per cent contained, but Mottishaw said it could be at least a week before it is fully under control.

Since the Apex fire started, two more wildfires have been reported in the region, the Boot Hill fire in the Nickleplate area (near Apex Mountain Resort) had expanded to 136 hectares with no containment. There were no evacuation alerts in place.

The Jura fire between Summerland and Princeton grew to about 200 hectares and the evacuation alert for 606 properties was expected to remain in place for much of Thursday.

Well over 100 wildfires are currently active in B.C. costing millions of dollars a day.

The Apex fire, thought to have started Tuesday afternoon, like many of the others, is believed to be human caused.

“It started right off the roadside and it’s another of those unfortunate starts,” said Mottishaw. “What we’re trying to get across is that things are so super dry, be practical what you’re doing and where you’re doing it.”

There could be some relief in site with Environment Canada calling for a chance of rain as early as Saturday and more in the coming week.



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