Firefighters fought to keep the fire from reaching homes along Westwood Drive in West Bench Thursday morning. (Dustin Godfrey/Western News)

Penticton bush fire became “massive” from large, dead trees

Fire significantly damaged one home’s roof, with another home seeing a minor fire

Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson has confirmed that two houses were affected by a fire that lit up a gully in West Bench, with one receiving more significant damage to the roof after an ember landed on it.

“One of the embers, I guess hot embers, landed on the roof, and it caught fire, and with the dryness that we’ve had, obviously it took off pretty good,” said Don Lancaster, owner of the home that was hit harder by the fire. “Fire department got on it really quick, but it’s the damage now that they have to tear the roof apart to get underneath and make sure nothing’s gotten into the attic.”

Related: Firefighters battling fire on West Bench

Lancaster, who said he wasn’t initially home during the fire, added that there has also been significant water damage to the home from firefighters dousing the fire, which he said reached around a foot in height.

“It hasn’t really been (a worry), although with the dryness and of course all the fires in B.C., you do sort of take a second look around your own neighbourhood,” Lancaster said. “We realized that those trees that went up and the ones down in front of our houses are all on First Nations land, and we have, through permission from them, there have been a few trees that we’ve taken out over the last month or so.

“But maybe more, now.”

He added that he’ll likely be taking a closer look at keeping his property clear of dry materials.

“We do that anyways. Especially, like I say, you see what’s going on in B.C. and how dry it is, you try to minimize the problem if it does happen,” he said. “Fortunately, they seem to be pretty well on it.”

Related: Williams Lake couple leaves fate of home in Mother Nature’s hands

The Penticton Fire Department got the call at around 9:15 a.m., and Naramata and Summerland fire departments to fight the fire, with the B.C. Wildfire Service also on the blaze with an initial attack team and helicopter support.

Watkinson said the other house that was affected was the next door house, though it appears there hasn’t been significant damage to that house.

Watkinson described an “extraordinary” scene at the fire, which came within feet of homes on Westwood Drive.

“You could imagine a completely dried pine tree that’s 150 feet tall, fully involved in fire with wind driven from the north, spreading from tree-to-tree. It’s extraordinary to see, and intimidating to see nonetheless, with homes being licked by the flames of those trees.”

Around 40 homes are under a tactical evacuation, according to Watkinson, though the evacuation order only affects Westood Drive at this point.

Firefighters had the blaze effectively under control at 100-per-cent containment, with hopes of sending residents back to their homes within a few hours.

Related: More armed forces on the way to help

Currently, crews are largely focused on putting out hot spots in the fire, estimated at a hectare in size.

It’s not clear if and when those whose roofs have been affected by the fires will be able to return to their homes.

“One of them, for sure, they got quite a bit of damage. But better losing their roof to their house,” Watkinson said. “Cedar shakes, right, they’re perfect storm for having an ember transplant. With the wind, it picks up, it gets up in the eaves there, it gets underneath the cedar shakes.”

Only homes with cedar shingles on the roof were affected by the fire, Watkinson said.

The fire appears to have started near the base of a dry, large pine tree, according to Watkinson, who said there had been some fallen trees nearby that fuelled the fire.

“You could imagine 150-foot-long pine trees dried out, lying side by side, wind driven fire. It was a massive blaze for a while,” Watkinson said.

“The City of Penticton is a FireSmart community, however not everybody participates in that model. Having three large pine trees that are dead on the front of your property on the hillside in wildfire season certainly is not what I would consider FireSmart,” he added, referring to the Union of B.C. Municipalities program to mitigate wildfires’ effects on interface homes.

“It is an extreme fire behaviour when you have that kind of debris lying at the base of your home.”

An investigation into the cause of the fire is underway from local fire inspectors, as well as RCMP and provincial inspectors.

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Related: No shortage of volunteers at Penticton evac centre


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Embers from the West Bench bush fire Thursday morning dropped on two roofs, significantly damaging one of them, according to Fire Chief Larry Watkinson. (Dustin Godfrey/Western News)

Smoke filled an evacuated Westwood Drive on West Bench near Penticton early Thursday morning, as crews battled a large bush fire near the street. (Dustin Godfrey/Western News)

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