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.
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.
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.”