Fires like Shelter Cove could be the ‘new normal’

Climate change faulted for spate of fires across B.C.

A smoky haze blanketing B.C. as flames engulf pockets of provincial forests could very well be “the new normal,” says B.C.’s premier.

As she toured through the Westside Road fire site, which as of Thursday was mapped at 460 hectares, Premier Christy Clark told reporters she fears that wildfires are increasing in strength and in number due to climate change and this year is far from being an anomaly.

“We’re going to see more homes threatened, more people’s livelihoods threatened, more forest resources lost,” she said.

“Climate change has altered the terrain and it’s made us much more vulnerable to fire…The earth is very dry and I think that we have to be planning with the knowledge that this isn’t going to be an unusual year.”

There have been 1,300 fires in B.C., burning  more than 295,000 hectares and fighting them has come at a significant cost.

The provincial budget allotted for fires is decided on a five-year rolling total, Clark explained, and that amounted to somewhere in the area of $60 million.

This year’s firefighting efforts have soaked up far more, and the current tally is somewhere in the area of $143 million.  Clark said it could amount to three times that figure by season’s end.

That said, budgets aren’t going to douse the effort put forth.

“We’re going to spend as much as is needed,”  she said.

The Westside Road Wildfire was started by a Sunday night lightning strike. Helicopters  had bucketed water on it, but it smouldered underground until Monday when winds whipped up flames and it rapidly spread across the hillside.

It has yet to be contained and continues to grow incrementally as conditions challenge firefighters.

Fire incident commander Glen Burgess said despite the fact the fire is growing, progress has been made.

“Our priority at this point is along Westside Road, protecting the homes and the values there,” Burgess said.

Airtankers and bucketing helicopters supported BC Wildfire Service crews on the ground, and control lines established during this flare up are holding.

“Higher relative humidities, lighter winds and a cooling trend beginning today are decreasing fire behaviour and aiding suppression efforts,” said Jordan Turner Fire Information Office.

“Crews are working to reinforce and extend control lines on the north and south flanks by establishing hand-guard and fuel-free areas. Crews will also begin to establish control lines on the west flank of the fire and continue to mop-up the area along Westside Road.”

In addition to the 70 homes that were evacuated, there have been a 1,000 BC Hydro customers who have been out of power since Monday due to the fire.

BC Hydro crews are currently working on integrating the units into the power system and hope to have the units running on Friday.

Hydro says the temporary units will provide continuous electricity to the customers that are receiving power on a rotational basis and the La Casa subdivision. Customers directly in the fire zone will remain without power until BC Hydro is permitted access to the area impacted by the fire.

Until the generating units are running, BC Hydro will continue to provide power on a rotating basis to customers. There are three rotations, each six hours long and providing power to 300 customers at a time. If system conditions permit, BC Hydro will add additional customers to these rotations.

BC Hydro is asking impacted customers to minimize their power usage until the wildfire has been contained and we are able to fully repair our system. Please plug in and turn on only what is necessary.

The BC Wildfire Service continues to fight this blaze with firefighters and heavy equipment on the ground supported by four helicopters.

The fire area is located approximately 17 kilometers northwest of downtown Kelowna.  Both the City of Kelowna and City of West Kelowna are located well away from the actual fire scene.

The Central Okanagan Regional District has issued an Evacuation Order for residences in the area, which affects 70 properties. More information is available at: www.cordemergency.ca

The BC Wildfire Service thanks the public for its ongoing support in reporting wildfires. To report a wildfire or open burning violation, call 1 800 663-5555 toll-free or *5555 on a cellphone.

For the latest information on current wildfire activity, burning restrictions, road closures and air quality advisories, visit: http://www.bcwildfire.ca