A fast-moving grass fire kept Penticton firefighters on their toes Wednesday, as it quickly consumed dry brush along an urban trail and threatened several homes in the area.
Les Roberts was eating lunch at his Farrell Street townhouse when he noticed a small fire down the embankment and just off the trail along the back of his house.
His alarm grew as the wind picked up, however.
“They had a teeny, tiny little fire over there and a few people were trying to stamp it out on their own,” he recalled, pointing to the ignition point at the end of Wade Avenue East. “Then the wind blew and, holy smokes, it started going.
“It jumped the road there, and started coming up the hill.”
That’s the point where the retiree sprung into action. He went outside and started watering his yard and the embankment.
“We got out the hoses,” Roberts said, noting his neighbours came out to help. “One guy had the sprinkler going. Everybody came out and was spraying water here.”
He pointed out an area on the embankment where shrubs used to be, which now shows only scorched earth and smoldering grass. He said he watched the flames engulf a telephone pole at the end of Wade as well.
“If it wasn’t for the wind, it wouldn’t have got going,” Roberts said.
Penticton Fire Department deputy chief Dave Spalding said a resident reported the grass fire at 1:05 p.m., and dispatch determined initially it was a first-alarm assignment that would only require two engines and six firefighters.
But shortly after crews arrived on scene, they had to call in more resources.
“They found that they had a fast-moving grass fire,” he said, adding flames were darting through the light grass at the end of Wade, where the urban Kettle Valley Rail Trail ran just below an embankment. “There was a fairly strong wind blowing, so it quickly moved up the hill to the KVR and then along the KVR to Nanaimo Avenue East.”
After residents sprayed their yards and the hill, the fire could only move along the trail — and the Nanaimo intersection proved to be a saving grace, he said.
“It basically ran out of grass at that point, and that’s where we were able to catch it,” Spalding said.
The fire was largely contained within half an hour, but crews didn’t leave the scene until 4 p.m. so they could douse all the hot spots.
The incident occurred just as the Kamloops Fire Centre and City of Penticton announced the temporary fire ban for open fires would be rescinded Thursday, given the favourable weather conditions that had led to a “decreased fire danger rating.”
Fire Chief Wayne Williams said the fire ban was rescinded in line with the Kamloops Fire Centre’s decision, so the public has consistent rules, but he saw the irony of the situation.
“We got notification (Wednesday) morning from the fire centre, and we usually follow their lead,” he said, urging vigilance in the community. “We haven’t had any moisture for a long period of time. Even if we do, we need extended periods for it to sink in. But there’s still a lot of dry grass out there, and that was exactly what happened (Wednesday).”
Spalding said that the fire department is hoping people keen on walking trails or hunting this fall will think of fire prevention.
“It is still dry, and we want people to be very cautious,” he said. “Even though people can have a campfire, keep it small, keep it manageable and make sure it’s extinguished before you go to bed for sure.”