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Update: Power outages new concern created by Smith Creek fire

The Smith Creek fire is now 200 hectares according to the BC Wildfire Management Branch. - Al Waters/Capital News
The Smith Creek fire is now 200 hectares according to the BC Wildfire Management Branch.
— image credit: Al Waters/Capital News

New challenge for firefighters (Friday, July 18, 9:30 a.m.)

Westside residents are now being asked to be prepared for power outages as a result of the Smith Creek Fire.

The blaze is burning within 100 metres of the BC Hydro main feeder line serving West Kelowna, Westbank and Peachland.

Firefighters continue to actively work to guard evacuated houses and public infrastructure.

The single power line source is an issue West Kelowna council has consistently raised to Hydro, asking what would happen if just such a fire damaged the solitary feeder line.

In fact, a BC Hydro representative met with members of West Kelowna council who attended the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting last September about the district's ongoing interest in seeing the utility provider add an additional, secondary electrical transmission line.

"Although we were told that construction of a second transmission line is even more remote than before, they appear to have done some work in an effort to protect our service," West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater said at that time. "They conducted wildfire mitigation along the line and replaced older infrastructure, so we are less likely to experience interruption due to forest fire or failing equipment."

West Kelowna is the largest community in B.C. that is supplied by a single line.

Meanwhile, Hydro has passed on the following information to assist Westside residents to prepare for possible power outages:

1.    Check whether the power failure is limited to your home. If your neighbour's power is still on, check your circuit breaker panel or fuse box.

2.    Call BC Hydro at 1-888-POWERON (1 888 769 3766) or *HYDRO (*49376) on your cell phone. Tell Hydro about the outage so we can send the right crews and equipment to the right location.

3.    Tune into your local radio station for storm and power outage updates.

4.    Turn off all appliances, including home computers and peripherals, especially those that generate heat. This helps prevent hazards or damage when service is restored.

5.    Turn off all lights except one inside your home and one outside. The inside light lets you know and the outside light lets BC Hydro crews know, when the power is back on.

Other ways to be prepared:

•  Develop a preparedness plan and share it with your family. Be sure everyone knows what to expect and what to do. Have a contingency plan in case power is out for a longer period.

• Make a list of local emergency contact numbers (fire, police, ambulance, etc.). Include 1 888 POWERON (1 888 769 3766) for reporting an outage.

•  Prepare an emergency kit and store it in an easy-to find location. Check regularly to make sure the kit is well stocked and that all equipment is in good working order.

• Use surge protectors to protect sensitive electrical equipment such as computers, DVD players and TVs.

•  Include a battery operated flashlight in your emergency kit to avoid using candles - they can be a fire hazard.

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Few flare-ups in overnight hours

It has been a relatively good night on the fire-lines as crews monitored the Smith Creek fire.

Field reports suggest there were a few flare ups during the overnight hours, but they were knocked down quickly by fire fighter patrols from West Kelowna, Kelowna, Lake Country and the BC Wildfire Management Branch.

Late last night, the fire was estimated at 200-hectares.  Later this morning it’s anticipated an update will be available once crews have had an opportunity to see the fire from the air during daylight hours.

Incident Command for the fire will develop a plan of attack for today taking into consideration weather conditions and other factors.  It’s expected an aircraft and ground crews will resume their vigorous attack on the fire with the goal of building fire guards and working towards containment.

RCMP members continue to staff roadblocks on the perimeter of the evacuated areas and are patrolling throughout.

No new Evacuation Alerts or Orders are in place.   Approximately 2,500 residents from almost 1,100 homes remain out on Evacuation Order.

All residents on the west side of Okanagan Lake from Peachland, West Kelowna and Westbank First Nation reserves are encouraged to make personal emergency preparations to ensure they are self-sustaining in the event that there is a loss of  electricity for an extended period and that they have enough water for each member of their family.

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Winds posing serious threat for fire crews

The Wildfire Management Branch says the Smith Creek fire is now 200 hectares in size and continues to threaten to nearby homes.

"Winds may pose a challenge for ground crews tonight and could cause a further increase in fire activity," said a release from Tracy Wynnyk, fire information officer, issued at 10:30 p.m.

Crews from all four municipalities, along with more than 21 Wildfire Management Branch personnel, are working the fire. Additional resources will assist early tomorrow morning, including aircraft, more ground personnel and heavy machinery.

"This wildfire is suspected to be human-caused, and therefore preventable," the release states. "This is a serious reminder of the risk of wildfire in the Kamloops Fire Centre region.

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Evacuation order expands (8:37 p.m.)

An Evacuation Alert has been issued for approximately 150 properties from 1898 to 2515 Bartley Road and Lenz Road (including Pinewood Villa Mobile Home Park) in West Kelowna as a result of the Smith Creek fire. These people should be prepared to leave their homes on short notice in the event the fire expands.

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Fire grows

As of 6:54 p.m. the Smith Creek forest fire is 175 hectares in size and burning out of control, according to an emergency update from Central Okanagan Emergencies.

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A forest fire burning out of control above Smith Creek has forced the evacuation of more than 1,500 people in the West Kelowna neighbourhood.

Firefighters from West Kelowna Fire Rescue, Kelowna, Peachland, Lake Country and the BC Forestry Service are on site responding to the blaze , which was reported around 1:20 p.m.

West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater has also been rectifying incorrect information reported by a local media organization indicating a structure was lost in the blaze.

"The information was as a result of heavy smoke in the area. And as a result of helicopter bucketing, the residence was in fact saved," he said.

Strong winds pushed the flames closer to the Smith Creek subdivision, allowing the fire to grow to 30 hectares as of 5 p.m. Coupled with the climbing temperature, it has been a difficult blaze for firefighters to gain the upper hand, according to West Kelowna Fire Chief Wayne Schnitzler.

“Right now it’s a wind-driven fire. That’s not helping our air support," he said.

Schnitzler had to pull back ground crews because of the velocity of the fire, though air support remained, despite treacherous winds generated by the fire.

The evacuation order is impacting 585 homes and approximately 1,500 residents living in the following areas:

• All properties accessed off of Dixie Road

• 3001-3072 Whispering Hills Drive

• Copper Ridge Drive

• Copper Ridge Court

• Copper Ridge Place

• Copper Ridge Way

• Iron Ridge Place

• Iron Ridge Road

• Stone Ridge Drive

• Bridal Hill Court

• Bridal Hill Road

• Rhinestone Road

• Wildhorse Drive

• Sageview Road

• Saddleridge Drive

• Sugosa Place

• North side of Salish Road (non-agricultural properties)

• 3046-3101 Smith Creek Road

• Summerview Place

• Summerview Court

• Doucette Drive

• 3125-3190 Shetler Drive

• Telcor Place

•Sandberg Road

•Twin Place

•Tallus Ridge Estates

•Alexandria Way

•Shannon Woods

All residents living west of the Bennett Bridge are asked to limit household water use and shut off outdoor irrigation in order to keep pressure and supply available for emergency crews fighting the fire.

Evacuees are to report to the Emergency Reception Centre set up at Lakeview Heights Baptist Church, 2630 Alhambra Dr.

The emergency operation centre is telling residents to close windows and doors, shut off all gas and electrical appliances (except fridges and freezers), gather family and pets (on leash), and take only key items—like wallets, purses, keys and medicine.

Schnitzler said the fire, estimated to be a rank three or four blaze, is a ways away from Monday's Smith Creek fire. No one was evacuated in earlier fire.

Kelowna Fire Chief Jeff Carlisle said he didn't know the specific number of firefighters battling the fire, but indicated it is sucking a major portion of the region's personnel.

"It's a very dynamic situation right now…All those departments are throwing everything they have at it," he said.

New information, including maps of evacuations, will be released to the public through the media and online at cordemergency.ca as soon as it became available.

 

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