Forest fire season arrives in South Okanagan

Crews mopping up blazes in Naramata and White Lake, as officials warn about rising fire danger

Tinder-dry conditions and no rain in sight has sparked a warning from the provincial forest service for to people use extreme caution in areas prone to wildfires.

The notice comes on the heels of the third suspected human-caused fire in three days in the South Okanagan, the latest being Wednesday afternoon in an area just west of Osoyoos near Spotted Lake off Old Richter Pass Road.

At the height of that fire, thought to have started around 3 p.m., about 50 firefighters were working on scene and five planes and two helicopters were used to battle the “aggressive” blaze which eventually burned about 15 hectares.

Crews remained on scene overnight and into Thursday to mop up the hot spots and make sure it did not start again.

The other two fires happened Monday, the first in the Chute Lake Road area north of Naramata, which burned less than a hectare of grassland, and the second was later in the day near White Lake Road, northwest of the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory where about 30 hectares were consumed.

A small forest fire near Big White on Wednesday was also quickly extinguished with the use of aerial support.

“Because it’s starting to get very hot and dry and throughout your area you are in a high fire danger rating and outdoor burning has been banned at this time in the South Okanagan,” said Kamloops Fire Centre information officer Kayla Pepper of the Wildfire Management Branch.

“With the weather hot, dry and windy over the next week or so, that could definitely climb, there is definitely that potential there and we just want people to exercise all diligence to ensure if they have any fire use, such as cigarettes, that they are extinguishing their cigarettes properly in water and not throwing them out the window when they are driving down the highway.

“Our message is clear: any person-caused fire is preventable and we are taking that very seriously in our investigation.”

In all three of this week’s fires there were structures nearby.  Fortunately, quick responses by forestry crews with the assistance of local volunteer departments, and in the Naramata fire some members of the public, the flames were prevented from reaching the buildings.

To date in the Penticton zone there have been 24 wildfires, which is down from the 10-year average of 30.

Of those this year, seven were caused by lighting and the rest by humans, which is actually above the average.

In addition to the huge cost of fighting the fires, estimated to be many thousands of dollars, there is always the potential for injury to those on the front line, including those in the aircraft.

As well, if a wildfire goes interface, the situation could escalate to the point where the general public in the area would be at risk of losing their homes and worse.

According to suppression experts the initial attack sequence is critical in getting the fire under control and was part of the reason to bolster the air support unit.

This year the Kamloops centre has added five more fixed wing aircraft to complement the two planes already stationed there.

Currently there is one tanker and bird dog plane (which scouts and guides the air tankers at fire scenes) and a ground crew base of 18 firefighters at the Penticton airport which were utilized in all three of this week’s fires.

Over the next week, Environment Canada is calling for continued hot windy conditions with temperatures climbing into the mid-30 C range which will likely result in the fire danger rating rising to extreme and will include a ban on campfires.

Anyone who sees what they believe to be a wildfire is asked to call 1-800-663-5555 or call *5555 toll free on most cellular networks, or alternately 911.