Where there’s smoke, there’s fire…
You may have heard, or read, or watched (on TV), B.C. has had a relatively warm and dry summer, particularly in the Okanagan. Nevertheless we have been blessed that while there have been some smokey days, we have had little direct interaction with forest fires. This morning, as we discussed (& watched) at the gym, that blessing evaporated or perhaps more appropriate wording would be ignited.
You can doubtless get more information from your favourite news source, but trust me, it is serious. There are approximately 1/4 million people in Kelowna, West Kelowna, the Westbank Indian Band and surrounding hinterlands. The fire has actually jumped Okanagan Lake, which is no mean feat; but, it does show the power of the gusting winds. While it is relatively straightforward to evacuate Kelowna and the core parts of West Kelowna and even most of the Westbank Indian Band, there are a number of smaller communities along the shoreline of both the West & East sides of Okanagan Lake that are served by single roadways. Furthermore these roads are not straight-line paved super highways; they are winding, scenic and meandering roads primarily designed for people to quietly get to either their summer home or their more remote daily residence. Any amount of traffic and these roads quickly become snail-paced.
While being a slow road is in itself not necessarily an issue, the problem is that all kinds of fire-fighting equipment & personnel must use them to get to sites of actual blazes. Some of the vehicles required to haul the heavier equipment take up more than their side of the road. Thus the potential for accidents and/or traffic jams. I believe that was one of the reasons early evacuation notices have been issued. The authorities needed the people out of the way so that they could attack the fires unencumbered.
There is another issue that may not be readily understood if you don’t know the area. There are new subdivisions that have been built in very picturesque settings that are right in the middle of a forested hillside/mountainside area. That means that even if they have been designed with significant emergency water systems, it may not be possible for crews to get in to utilize such fire suppression options. And, once the populace has been evacuated, there is no one else available to help operate the system.
On the ground assessments are guarded; nevertheless, the Chief of the Westbank Indian Band (who has lived in the area for some time) believes that this fire is on its way to be significantly more destructive than the 2003 Okanagan Mountain fire which escaped the confines of the Regional Park within which it is situated, and destroyed a great many high end mountainside homes on the East side of the lake and above Kelowna. That fire also took out some historic railway trestles on the old KVR track bed (which is now a storied bike & walking path). These have been replaced, but at significant expense! Because the current fire also threatens boat houses and piers along with some collections of homes that are somewhat bunched together the costs could multiply astronomically!
There are fires in both the Fraser Canyon to the west and to the southwest beyond Keremeos. All these in combination with the new winds have again increased the prevalence of smoke, such that at times the aerial bombardment of the fires has been hampered which then holds up some of the ground crews.
Partly to mitigate all the above-noted issues, and partly to limit the amount of lookie-lou’s, highway traffic throughout the Okanagan has either been curtailed or stopped altogether. I was to attend a play at a local playhouse this evening; it has been cancelled because the star actor lives in West Kelowna and had to return home to begin evacuation. That is how quickly the world has changed in the Okanagan.
I will update tomorrow morning. For the moment, be vigilant and take care of yourself and your loved ones…