Penticton’s fire ban was officially put in place at noon on July 7, making it 56 days old as of Friday. (Public Domain photos)

At day 56, no end in sight for fire ban

Fire Chief Larry Watkinson says the ban could run through to October

Although a fire ban was lifted last week for the Cariboo region, Penticton’s fire chief says he’s not expecting to see the same in the South Okanagan for at least a few weeks.

Residents and visitors in the Prince George area can now light a campfire, but in Penticton, the provincial ban remains in place, with the fire risk still at a level four out of five. Penticton Fire Department Chief Larry Watkinson said he doesn’t think that’s about to change anytime soon.

“We’re still in extreme fire behaviour right now. There has been no change. We haven’t had weather, we haven’t had any rain for months,” Watkinson said.

Related: Record breaking weather in Penticton

In fact, Penticton is currently on a record drought, with over 60 days without measurable precipitation, which adds significantly to the fire risk.

For that reason, even if provincial authorities lifted their ban on the region, Watkinson said he wouldn’t lift the city-wide ban on open flames. However, that doesn’t include things like propane-lit barbecues, which don’t produce embers, one of the major fears of campfires turning into wildfires.

Authorities say a stray ember could land on tinder-dry trees nearby and quickly spread out of control.

Watkinson said he’s still not sure when the fire ban might be lifted, but when conditions turn from “extreme” to “moderate,” he says he “might consider” lifting or easing the ban.

“With the way the hillsides are, right now, we’re not considering any lifting of any ban. We still have the motorized vehicle ban on, too, right, and smoking ban,” Watkinson said.

Related: Cariboo backcountry ban lifted as risk eases

All signs are pointing to the ban being lifted in October, Watkinson said, but if the Valley gets substantial rain in September, that could mean lifting the ban this month.

“It’s basically the worst fire season the province has ever experienced,” Watkinson said, asked whether this long of a fire ban was normal. “We’re in a worse condition that we were in in 2003 at this time of year.”

But campers and owners of backyard fire pits may need to get used to this going into the future, Watkinson said.

“I wouldn’t say this is going to be the norm, but it could potentially become the new norm, with the way we’re seeing our summers go,” he said. “It’s drier and hotter every year, it seems like. We have to consider that, that that’s where we live. We live in the interface.”

Watkinson said he hasn’t had any issue with the fire ban since it was put into place on July 7, outside of a few who failed to comply early on.

Related: Fire conditions prompt regional ban on motorized vehicles

“We haven’t had really any problems. The people have been very responsive to it. If not, they want us to do more, like close down, like people are asking to close down trails,” he said.

“I’m just not willing to go there. I don’t think a person walking their dog through a trail, or just going for a walk, that is not a fire threat.”


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