Shelter Cove wildlife incident commander Dale Bojhara talks with local media this afternoon on Westside Road.

Shelter Cove wildfire poses containment challenges

Westside Road offers only fireguard buffer so far in blaze that has grown to more than 300 hectares.

The often maligned Westside Road has played a valuable role in helping protect homes threatened by the Shelter Cove wildlife.

The winding road along Okanagan Lake that connects Vernon to West Kelowna,  often criticized as being unsafe to drive and currently subject of some major road improvements, has provided a buffer between the flames and the homes along the Westside shoreline.

“Right now there is virtually no containment on the fire,” said Dale Bojhara, with the B.C. Wildlife Service. “We are using Westside Road as an anchor, and moving our firefighting crews along the north and south flanks, using air tankers and heavy equipment where accessible, to try and corral it…but it is rugged terrain and there is a lot of timber up the slope that can fuel this fire. “

Bojhara said as of this afternoon, the fire continues to burn in a westerly uphill direction, away from any structures, but it remains volatile with changing winds the key factor in creating that volatility.

“I just arrived on scene here this morning but from what it looks like, this fire was actually two separate fires that have merged into one,” Bojhara said.

“The overnight incident commander for the fire said the fire was very active last night, due to strong winds, as embers were being tossed metres ahead to create spot growth. That’s why the fire looks somewhat disjointed from the air until those spot fires begin to merge together.”

He said the state of the afternoon winds will paint a picture for the firefighting strategy leading into tonight and Wednesday morning.

“This fire has heat, wind and low humidity, and couple that with the drought that has been experienced across the province this summer, and here in the Okanagan specifically with a dry spring and in June you normally see a lot of rain and that didn’t happen this year,” he said.

“We are now into a full fledged dry fire season.”

And that has spawned forest fires across the province, he added, which does tax the resources of the B.C. Wildlife Service.

“How to best use those resources around the province is something that is discussed every morning and adjustments are made accordingly,” he said.

Bojhara noted conditions now are similar to 2009 when the Terrace Mountain flared up on the west side of Okanagan Lake.

“If this fire continues in that direction, it will enter the same area as where the Terrace Mountain occurred where there isn’t much fuel to keep it going, so that might end up helping us,” he said.

On the home protection front, North Westside Fire Rescue deputy-chief Jason Satterthwaite said support from Lake Country, Peachland, Ellison, Wilson Landing and Kelowna fire departments have enabled sufficient resources to stand guard to protect home and other outdoor structures.

He said firefighting crews did douse some minor spot fires around homes Monday night, but otherwise the fire has headed west up the mountain and away from Okanagan Lake.

“We have about 20 firefighters in place or tonight so I think we are feeling confident we can handle whatever comes our way, but right now the fire is moving away from us,” Satterthwaite said.

He said is own house is currently not threatened by the fire but the power has been knocked out, a precaution taken to protect firefighters when the fire was burning around the hydro lines Monday night.

“I am not in an evacuation area but I do have a freezer full of meat,” he said, noting the power line situation is currently being evaluated as to when the grid can become operational again.