West Kelowna blaze forces evacuations

Wildfire crews scrambling to contain a human-caused fire just 60 kilometres north of Penticton serves as a stern reminder that fire season is still upon us.

Wildfire crews scrambling to contain a human-caused fire just 60 kilometres north of Penticton serves as a stern reminder that fire season is still upon us.

A state of emergency was declared on Tuesday by the Regional District of Central Okanagan after a forced evacuation of 106 homes and 550 people in Traders Cove, Bear Creek Service Road and Bear Creek Provincial Park areas. The interface fire, located adjacent to Westside Road, was 39 hectares in size as of Tuesday afternoon.

“Strong down-slope winds and aggressive fire behaviour hampered firefighters who battled the blaze that broke out around 10 p.m. (Monday),” said Lindsay Carnes, fire information officer. “Fire cause investigators are working to determine what sparked the human-caused blaze.”

Air tankers placed retardant along the fire perimeter to slow the fire’s growth and helicopters were expected to be utilized on Tuesday to assist ground crews in fire guard construction and extinguishing hot spots, however, low-lying smoke could hinder air support.

In addition to evacuation of area residents, those living on Westside Road south of Bear Creek Provincial Park and north of Sailview Bay are on evacuation alert. All residents were warned to be prepared to evacuate on short notice. An emergency social services reception centre has been set up at Westbank Lions Hall at 2466 Main St. and evacuees are asked to attend the reception area to register. Public inquiries can be directed to 250-469-8490.

Several wildfires that have sparked over the past week have Kamloops fire officials urging the public to be careful with fire use and pay attention to all open burning, including campfire, bans. The South Okanagan is maintaining a high to extreme fire danger warning throughout the week.

“Hot, dry conditions are expected to continue throughout the week and the public is reminded a campfire ban remains in effect in the Merritt and Lillooet fire zones. An open burning ban also remains in effect throughout the Kamloops Fire Centre. It is important no campfires are left unattended and recreationalists comply with campfire bans and open burning restrictions,” said Carnes.

An open burning ban is in effect throughout the fire centre that prohibits burning any waste, slash or other materials at a size larger than one metre by one metre, burning more than two open fires of any size at the same time, burning stubble or grass over any area or size, using fireworks or burning barrels of any size or description.

The Kamloops Fire Centre also is reminding the public to make sure fires are not lit or kept burning during windy conditions. Make sure fires are fully extinguished before leaving the area and have adequate tools, water and people on hand to contain a fire.

So far this season, crews have responded to 209 wildfires within the Kamloops Fire Centre’s boundaries, 134 of which were person-caused and therefore entirely preventable.

“Thanks to the unsettled weather and cool conditions in most of the province, this fire season has been one of the slowest on record. The public should keep in mind that, in spite of the cooler, unstable weather, wildfires can happen in an instant,” said Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson.