Tinder dry conditions and high winds contributed to yet another Okanagan fire Monday night, leaving area residents to watch helplessly as flames aggressively rolled across a Westside hill.
The wildfire, which as of Tuesday afternoon was mapped at 430 hectares, started Sunday at a spot above Westside Road near Shelter Cove, where lightning struck. Early detection meant that helicopters were able to almost immediately knock down the flames it sparked, leaving little more than a puff of smoke in its place.
Underground, however, it continued to smoulder until Monday night when winds whipped through the valley, changing things for the worse.
Karen Miller lives across the lake from the fire and had a clear view of how a steady breeze picked up flames and helped them grow out of control.
“It was shocking to see the wind cause the fire to flare up Monday night. It quickly got huge and moved (downhill) toward Westside Road and then jump to the north,” Miller said.
“As terrifying as a fire of that magnitude is, it is captivating to watch and there was a steady stream of traffic along Okanagan Centre Road West to watch the fire grow directly across the lake from Safe Harbour. I’d never seen trees candling like that before—exploding like firecrackers amidst the smoke and flames.”
If nothing else positive came of the sight, it did act as a reminder that she needs to update her family’s emergency plan, lest they be in fire’s path one day.
Provincial fire information officer Navi Saini said 70 houses along Westside Road were evacuated at around 9:30 p.m. Monday as the fire spread.
“It spread overnight to Westside Road and north to Caesars Landing, but we don’t have any structure loss which is good news,” said Saini, noting that she couldn’t specifically say how close flames got to area houses, but that there were crews actively protecting the properties in the area.
Saving homes is considered a win, but the fire has yet to be contained and the challenges it poses are still high in number. Of particular concern is predicting how the weather will contribute to or limit the firefight.
“You can have heavy machinery and crews working overnight, and we use air tankers and helicopters until landing time, at sunset,” said Saini. But, she explained, if the winds get too forceful and the smoke too heavy, those air crews will have to hold back until stable conditions return.
The forecast for cooler weather in the days ahead doesn’t negate the possibility that wind and lightning will be present.
Both of which have been a strain on B.C. firefighters, who have seen an abnormally high number of fires.
In a teleconference held Tuesday, BC’s Chief Fire Info Officer Kevin Skrepnek said Skrepnek said 1,273 fires have burned nearly 300,000 hectares of forest at a cost of $136 million this season. Currently, there are 259 active wildfires across B.C., 115 of which were sparked by lightning strikes earlier in the week.
“By any measure that’s a significant amount,” he said.
As city sized swaths of forests burn, thousands of firefighters from across the province and beyond are being tapped to help battle back flames.
The Westside fire is being fought by North Westside and Wilson Landing structural firefighters along with ground and air support from the BC Wildfire Service.
RCMP members and various other groups are also in the mix, ensuring that those affected by the fire will have some modicum of security.
Mounties are conducting security patrols within the Evacuation Area, which runs from 3985 Westside Road north to La Casa Resort (but not including La Casa) and the following roads: Denison Road, Shelter Cove Road and Deighton Road.
And, those who are out of home currently have somewhere to go.
The Central Okanagan Regional District sent out a release saying Emergency Support Services Reception Centre located in the Westside Lions Community Hall, 2466 Main Street in West Kelowna is open to assist only those residents within the Evacuation Order area.
They should register for assistance by ESS volunteers with food, lodging and clothing needs. As well, volunteers with the Canadian Animal Disaster Response Team (CDART) are on hand to help evacuees that have animals or may call 250-809-7152 for assistance.
BC Hydro advises the electricity is off as a result of the firefighting effort affecting approximately 1,400 including many who are not under the Evacuation Order. Residents can check for updates at www.bchydro.com and select the Power Outages menu option. After an extended outage residents may wish to get information about Health and Safety from the Interior Health website www.interiorhealth.ca.
There are no Evacuation Alerts associated with this fire. Neither La Casa Resort or Lake Okanagan Resort are under the Evacuation Order or Alert at this time.
Westside Road is still closed between Cinnabar Creek and La Casa Resort. For the latest road information please visit the Drive BC website, www.drivebc.ca