After weeks of worry about the rising water dominating our conversation, now the topic has turned to wildfires and smoke.
The smoke is taking a toll not just on tourism but on our quality of life — from basic breathing to the enjoyment of our beautiful surroundings. It has become normal to expect forest fires every summer and people are getting weary of our ongoing reality.
What continues to boggle the mind is that people still seem oblivious to the extreme fire risk. Each day there are new social media posts or reports about smokers discarding their lit cigarettes out of their car windows or campers who feel a small fire is acceptable. We can’t be so naïve or selfish and put others at risk.
No one goes out expecting to start a forest fire, but things can quickly escalate. Weather has a significant impact on wildfires — in how they start, how aggressive they spread, and how long they burn. Our present fire behaviour rating is Extreme.
Currently, the conditions are worse than in the summer of 2003 when the region was devastated by the Okanagan Mountain Park fire. Every day, we get an update about the provincial state of emergency and a report on all of the new fires that have started. The province has already lost 435,000 hectares of wildland to wildfires this year compared to 150,000 hectares in an average year.
What is scary is that we’ve had several close calls. In recent weeks, we have seen wildfires in Kaleden, above the KVR trail towards Naramata, Highway 97 near Red Wing, and on the West Bench. Not surprisingly, many of the fires are human caused which means they are preventable. To try to reduce the risk, the City of Penticton along with the RDOS and Penticton Indian Band, issued a ban on all motorized vehicle use and smoking in natural areas within the city, West Bench and the Penticton Indian Band lands. We all need to be more aware and cautious.
The city is taking extra steps to prepare for wildfires in the area. Our fire department has been staffing up and city staff have been training and participating in mock emergencies so that we are ready to respond to a wildfire where evacuations may be necessary. I am thankful we are being proactive and grateful that our protective service professionals have acted so quickly and effectively thus far.
All residents have a responsibility to be prepared as well. I encourage you to develop a household plan that also includes pets and livestock, put together an emergency kit, connect with your neighbors, family and friends so when an event takes place you feel prepared. If you only had minutes to pack up and leave your home, what would you take? It is probably something you’ve never really talked about, but hopefully you take time to discuss what you would do and what you might be willing to do to help others in need.