Although it’s always alarming to see smoke coming from wooded areas in the Okanagan, residents in the Rose Valley Regional Park area have gotten used to the sight over the past several weeks.
Crews have been conducting controlled open burning since January to dispose of debris collected as part of a fuel modification project in the Rose Valley and Glen Canyon areas.
Kevin Hill, field supervisor on the controlled open burning project in Rose Valley Regional Park said that the burning will likely continue for at least another month.
“With suitable venting conditions for burning and considering the fact we still have to do some fine fuels cleanup, (it will take) approximately three to four weeks on the Rose Valley site. And Glen Canyon should be completed within that time frame too,” said Hill.
The field supervisor explained that burning can only take place when the venting index is appropriate. The venting index has to do with the atmospheric mixing of the air.
“If it’s a poor venting index, generally what it’s stating is that the smoke is going to maybe go up a little ways, but then it’s going to be limited as far as how high it rises. And there is usually not wind associated with it, so it will pool more in the valley.
“When we get a better venting index, there is more wind associated—there’s more mixing of the atmosphere. So that smoke is going to dissipate and move out quicker.”
The sight of smoke over Rose Valley Regional Park has been a worrying sight for a few individuals.
“There have been some 911 calls—people seeing flames or glowing piles on the hillside.”
Hill also noted that the Rose Valley Elementary School has contacted his crew a couple of times because of smoke blowing through the school yard.
“We’re always trying to recognize general wind direction and respect that if it’s going up Westlake Road, it’s going to be going through the school yard and through people’s properties.
“On school days we are required to work outside of 500 metres (of the school). We have been respecting that the whole way.”
Hill said that the purpose of the project is to reduce the fire hazard in the area.
“There is dead pine trees that have come down and there are also surface fuels that we have removed. We’re pruning the trees up to a height of three or four metres.
“What that does is it eliminates fuels on the ground that can carry fire.”
Thanks to the work that’s being done, if there is a low intensity ground fire, it will have a hard time getting into the canopy of the trees and becoming a crown fire. Crown fires are a lot more hazardous, according to Hill.
It’s typical to have approximately 60 burn piles going at once, depending on the conditions.
Hill explained that various steps are taken to ensure they do not get out of control.
“We start the fires using propane torches. We use a leaf blower as well to fan the flame and to get them burning hot really quickly. That also helps to get the smoke rising faster.
“As the piles burn down and they get cool enough that we can work close to them, we’re bucking the ends off of any logs that stick out. Those are getting put back on the core of the fire where it’s the hottest.
“Then we keep using pitchforks as rakes to pull in all the fine fuels.”
Although most of the crew goes home at 5 p.m., a couple workers stay on the site until at least 9 p.m. to ensure that everything is under control.
“We’ve had really good success on this project so far. It’s definitely a change to the look around here. It’s a lot more open and it may be a bit of an adjustment for people when the come back.
“But what we’re hearing from locals that live in the area (is that) they’re quite supportive of what’s going on.”