Perhaps we have become too complacent this summer. Even though we have been in drought since the end of June or thereabouts, we have not had any real forest fire activity to speak of. Most days, the three chemical bombers based at YYF have been sitting on the ground doing nothing but looking pretty. The nearby helicopter school has been primarily training or re-training helicopter pilots from around the world. The rest of the airport fairly quiet as Air Canada doesn’t resume flights until next Monday and I’m not sure when WestJet will again soar into our airspace. And throughout, mostly people went to the beach, sometimes put boats onto the lake, visited wineries and craft breweries, or biked. The air was clean and life was sort of returning to normal (or at least the new normal).
This all changed on Tuesday. A small two hectare fire was spotted on Christie Mountain (this mountain was not named after either our former premier or a cookie-maker – at least I don’t think so, but then until Tuesday evening I didn’t even know that mountain had a name – I thought it was simply the mountain on the far edge of Ellis Creek Canyon – but then, I’m not the greatest geographer known to these parts!!). Time was just after 2:30 (I know that because I drove back to my canyon abode – Penticton Creek canyon – one over from Ellis Creek canyon – at 2:30 and saw no smoke). By 4:00 p.m. it was a four hectare fire. By 5:00 p.m. it was a six hectare fire. The winds kicked up from the south and by 6:00 p.m. it was a 240 hectare fire. By Wednesday night it was at least 4,000 hectares.
So that was the start… and many of you already know that because I told you.
Then the winds shifted and came from the north and the fire was somewhat contained as it was blown back on itself into areas already somewhat burned (though you should know that a forest fire seldom burns everything the first time through so there is fuel awaiting a returning blaze). Nevertheless, by last night the hot spots had diminished even though some eagerly anticipated rain failed to get over the Cascades and across the Thompson Plateau. The evacuation order for the Heritage Hills area and surrounding residences was kept in place and a larger evacuation alert was issued for all of southeast Penticton, up to and including those of us living in Bridgewater which is a gated community without a gate situated in the Penticton Creek canyon.
This morning when I awoke and went outside to skip (which is the last major activity in my mini-workout I put myself through at home twice a week) I could smell and see smoke. That was a surprise. I had a task on the west side of the city so I carried it out promptly as it would give me a view of Christie Mountain. From the west bench smoke was wisping upwards, much like scenes in old movies about the industrial revolution. It was drifting as much to the south as to the north and there was no evidence of significant winds.
When I came back home I became engaged in conversation with my neighbour Pete. A very useful neighbour because he can fix things, I always have time for a wee chat. I asked about his camper trucker being parked in his driveway and not in the storage spot. He said they were preparing for evacuation and asked me about my plans. Well, I said I would make sure I had my passport (primarily to show the BC Premier that I am a Canadian – I’d then produce my driver’s licence to show I am a resident of BC), along with my kilt and all my scotch. I would also likely grab a few cases of wine (including that for which I was the Associate Wine Maker). And maybe a couple of bikes along with some glasses and pillows. It was about 8:55 a.m. and we chuckled. Then a couple other guys came by (why do old guys always congregate on a person’s driveway?) and then we noticed that the winds were picking up as predicted. By 9:05 a.m. the breeze was noticeably stronger – trees were moving.
It is now well into the afternoon and the winds are continuing, sometimes gusting and occasionally still (like at the moment). I should also mention that when I came back from the west bench I noticed in the parking lot beside our soccer bubble there was a large assortment of fire fighting equipment – none of it from the Penticton Fire Department. I have since learned that the BC Wildfire Service (a group of professionals who get called in once a fire is deemed a serious threat) has started to assemble teams of people to undertake a variety of tasks including protecting homes and businesses, keeping transportation routes safe, and working to contain the fire.
It is sunny, the skies have clouds but no rain yet. There is a thickening layer of smoke in the air and the aroma of burnt wood is increasingly invading the nostrils. There is some concern that winds upwards of fifty kms/hr can carry sparks so there is some wet-proofing underway. But you can follow all this much more easily by going to www.castanet.net/penticton and I will leave it with you to do that going forward.
As for me, I will hook up the major hose we acquired shortly after we moved here and will soak the mulch in the space between our house and the creek. I am not too worried so don’t you worry. Before the fire will reach Bridgewater (which is at the extreme north end of the evacuation alert) it will have burned through a couple thousand homes and the conflagration will have given me time to get much of our stuff up to the condo on Apex Mountain which is on the west side of the valley. If there is anything I think is unusual or incorrect or overly scary on local media that needs to be re-interpreted, I shall do so. For now, rest assured that I am taking this seriously, but am more concerned for those who are near the fire than for myself. This is not yet a Fort Mac type blaze and we are blessed with lakes from which the choppers can scoop water and an excellent airport for the bombers to use without interference from commercial flights.