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Ongoing forest fire danger reflected in closure of Central Okanagan parks

Dilworth Mountain Park is so dry the City of Kelowna has locked the fence, preventing people from accessing it
Dilworth Mountain Park is so dry the City of Kelowna has locked the fence, preventing people from accessing it's kilometre-long, forest running track.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith

About every metre along Knox Mountain Drive, and often even closer, there is a cigarette butt laying in the tinder-dry grass.

It’s worse at the first lookout where fresh butts surround the 2003 firestorm commemorative sign, which sits against the dusty, golden backdrop of the hill, screaming fire season to anyone from the area.

With a clean sightline to Peachland—where a carelessly discarded smoke is believed to have caused the 2012 Trepanier Creek Fire, levelling four houses and several outbuildings—the butts would be galling to any of the concerned neighbours who keenly watch over this park, although, for the most part, the power-hikers, walkers, mountain bikers and trail runners still frequenting the trails never slow their pace enough to notice.

Closing the park to vehicular traffic doesn’t target the regular user, but rather the tourists and sight-seeing looky-loos keen to take a gander at this fair city from the comfort of a temperature-controlled environment.

“It’s the volume of traffic,” said Blair Stewart, City of Kelowna urban forestry supervisor. “…There are a number of fires started in our province by people every year.”

The statistics suggest the cause of wildfires are about 50/50 human causes to lightning strikes.

Knox Mountain suffered a lightning strike a couple of years ago, near Paul’s Tomb, which could have been devastating had the city’s fire mitigation efforts not ensured the low-lying brush and branches that can help a fire spread were gone before the cocktail of flames and high winds swept the hillside.

Within Knox Mountain Park, people are periodically found camping, but eagle-eyed residents living along the hill usually snuff out those moves quickly, reporting them to the authorities before there’s a serious threat.

Some of these neighbourhoods have built-in fire hazards—for example, the roofs in Magic Estates were originally all cedar shake—so fire mitigation is a lifestyle.

Smokers are really the big fear when long, hot dry spells like this hit, according to Kelowna Fire Chief Jeff Carlisle.

“I would hope that the public takes it really seriously about the hot, dry trend that we’re experiencing—and that’s projected to continue,” he said in interview mid-Monday.

The Southern Interior was setting temperature records yesterday with Kelowna hovering around 35C, while Penticton, Lytton and spots in the Fraser Canyon soared to near 40C.

“We do expect the heat to last into tomorrow and after that the ridge of high pressure that we’re experiencing right now will start to break down,” said Andre Besson, Environment Canada meteorologist.

Last Saturday, two suspicious fires in dumpsters caught media attention, but the fire chief isn’t worried about a fire bug, even with the string of 22 suspicious fires currently stirring reports of an arsonist at work in Vernon.

Carlisle is more concerned about the long, hot dry stretch ahead and the dry conditions force the city and regional district to close a vast swath of recreational areas.

“The fire indices now are extreme to high across the province…All the indications are that this will be a hot, dry trend, not dissimilar from what occurred in 2003,” he said.

While he was apologetic about the park closures, the inconvenience simply doesn’t outweigh the risk in his view.

The Central Okanagan Regional District has closed Hardy Falls Regional Park, Trepanier Creek Greenway Regional Park, Coldham Regional Park, Glen Canyon Regional Park, Kalamoir Regional Park, Rose Valley Regional Park, Stephens Coyote Regional Park, Scenic Canyon Regional Park, Mission Creek Greenway, Mission Creek Regional Park, Mill Creek Regional Park and Mountain Boucherie.

The City of Kelowna has closed Dilworth Mountain Park, and Knox Mountain is closed to vehicles although the park remains open for those on foot.

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