Waters: So much more than shelter lost when homes go up in flames

Fire consumes the stuff of life when it destroys a home.

It’s become all too familiar in recent years—summer forest fires threatening homes in the B.C. Interior.

Following the massive 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire that destroyed 238 homes in the Mission area of Kelowna, not a summer has gone by in B.C. where there has not been damage to property from forest fire, or frighteningly close calls, somewhere in the province

Here, we have had several instances—the aforementioned Okanagan Mountain Park fire in 2003, the Glenrosa and Fintry forest fires in 2009 and a fire that threatened Seclusion Bay, between Peachland and Westbank in 2010. There have been massive fires in other parts of the B.C. Interior too in recent years, particularly in the north.

In B.C., rich with forests and now increasing encroachment into those areas by development, the threat from forest fire has grown substantially along with the development. With more houses in what is known as the interface area, there is much more potential for serious property loss, or worse, than ever before.

But what burns in a home when it is destroyed by fire is more than just wooden walls, roofs and furniture.  The threat to life aside, the loss of valuable mementoes, photographs, documents and personal effects—the things that help make up a life—can be devastating. Insurance may cover some things but it cannot replace the irreplaceable.

In past years, Peachland seemed to escape the threat of forest fire. But not Sunday. Whipped up by wicked winds that fanned the flames into an incendiary frenzy, firefighters had a hard job battling the blaze that quickly grew to 200  hectares in size.

An example of just how difficult the flames were to fight was shown by the fire’s behaviour. Normally flames travel up the sides of hills, consuming any combustible material in their path. But on Sunday, the wind was so strong it pushed the fire downhill, threatening homes and forcing 1,500 people—about a third of Peachland’s population—to flee.

At the emergency registration centre for evacuees set up in nearby Westbank Sunday evening, the steady stream of people who arrived said they had little time to get out. As a result, most arrived with just the clothes on their backs, a pet and little else.

By Monday morning, despite the fact the active fire was still being fought, news of its destruction started trickling out. Mayor Keith Fielding said he had been told three or four homes had burned but he was waiting to hear from the fire investigation team.

A news conference a little later in the morning confirmed that number—three houses in Peachland were gone and one, an abandoned building located outside the municipal boundary in the regional district, had also been destroyed.

Any loss is too much but let’s hope the firefighters can keep the numbers that low in the coming days as they fight to contain this fire.

Alistair Waters is the Capital News’ assistant editor.


Kelowna Capital News