Dead grass and hot days are creating an early fire risk in the Okanagan

Dead grass and hot days are creating an early fire risk in the Okanagan

West Kelowna had two grass fires in one day and more are expected.

Jason Brolund can’t decide which potential disaster will most challenge his team of fire fighters this year, but he’s keeping an eye on the sky.

“Right now we are dealing with fires and floods, both at the same time,” said Brolund, fire chief of West Kelowna Fire Department. “We are in that awkward time where we have lots of water from the snow melt, but not as much precipitation as we might expect. And in our area in particular, what we’ve seen is the snow has melted and the long grass from last year is still around and it’s drying out fast, so we get fires.”

There were two Wednesday. The first was a grass fire along Highway 97 and the Coquihalla off-ramp at approximately 4:30 p.m. When crews arrived the fire was a Rank 2 ground fire being pushed by the wind and it was starting to climb into the trees. Crews were able to extinguish the fire front quickly ensuring the fire remained inside the median between the highway and the off-ramp.

READ MORE: SUSPICIOUS FIRE IN WEST KELOWNA

Then, just after 10 p.m., West Kelowna Fire Rescue responded to a second grass fire in the area of Bering and Carrington roads. The fire was knocked down quickly and is considered suspicious, due to some activity in the area.

With long grass, drying under hotter than normal conditions, you might think Brolund would be hoping for rain, but it’s not so simple with the record setting snowpack melting off the mountains That means the rain Environment Canada is forecasting could be a problem.

They’re looking at a 40 per cent chance of showers for Saturday and temperatures around 18 C.

More rain for Sunday and a high of 13 C.

“The rain will help push back fire season, but we’re also watching our hotspots trying to see if creeks and streams will rise,” Brolund said. “We really are at the mercy of the weather.”

You can’t control Mother Nature, he pointed out, but government workers across the valley are working overtime on flood prevention and mitigation measures in potentially vulnerable areas that have experienced flooding in the past. A localized state of emergency was ordered for Mill Creek to get some mitigation work completed quickly.

And while this is happening, Kelowna Fire Chief Travis Whiting, along with Brolund, is already trying to get people ready for the hottest days of summer.

“We won’t know what we’re going to get until we get into it, but there’s potential as we move through spring for a greater fire risk,” Whiting said.

Kelowna Fire Department has implemented a new Fire Smart initiative they hope will help homeowners keep their properties safe as the fire season carries on.

“If you call the non emergency number at the Kelowna fire hall and ask for prevention branch we will come to people’s homes and see how they can fire smart their community and reduce their risk,” said Whiting.

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