Thomson: Province remembers Okanagan Mountain Park fire

Wildlife management branch learned some tough lessons on how to fight fires and evacuate residents from 2003 firestorm.

Ten years ago today, B.C. experienced one of the most destructive and devastating wildfires in its history. The Okanagan Mountain Park fire was sparked by lightning on Aug. 16, 2003, and expanded aggressively across a tinder-dry landscape.

Despite the best efforts of our hardworking firefighting crews and dedicated fire management professionals, the intense flames spread quickly and eventually burned over 25,900 hectares before the blaze was extinguished.

The Okanagan Mountain Park fire forced the evacuation of over 33,000 people, including members of my own family and many friends and neighbours in Kelowna and Naramata. By the time the smoke finally cleared, 238 homes had been lost or damaged and a dozen historic trestles in the region were destroyed.

Ten years later, the provincial government’s Wildfire Management Branch and many of B.C.’s communities are much better prepared to respond quickly and decisively to interface fires of that magnitude.

With many parts of British Columbia experiencing an unusually dry summer this year, it is vital that we all adhere to local and provincial fire regulations. I encourage anyone who spots a wildfire or a campfire violation to report it by calling *5555 on a cellphone orcalling 1-800-663-5555 toll-free.

To learn more about fire use regulations or the current wildfire situation, visit the Wildfire Management Branch website at: www.bcwildfire.ca

The catastrophic 2003 wildfire season serves as a constant reminder to all British Columbians – in every corner of the province – that we must remain vigilant and always use fire carefully and responsibly.”

Photos of the Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire are online at http://flic.kr/s/aHsju8yVhy.

Kelowna Capital News