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Wind a challenge, further growth feared as Okanagan wildfires burn

Last Updated Jul 21, 2018 at 10:35 am MDT

FILE: An undated photo showing a BC Wildfire Service member. (Courtesy BC Wildfire Service)

Dealing with winds has been a challenge as crews continue to battle wildfires in the Okanagan Valley

Hundreds of properties threatened are currently under evacuation alert due to wildfires burning in parts of the Okanagan

Large parts of the Okanagan Valley are expected to remain a focus throughout the weekend for crews battling wildfires.

The corridor between Kelowna and Penticton is particularly problematic with more than a dozen fires burning in that stretch, in some cases there are homes at risk.

“So we’re definitely bringing a lot of resources there to address that situation,” Chief Fire Information Officer Kevin Skrepnek with the BC Wildfire Service says.

The weather continues to pose challenges, but he adds there is some relief.

“We are seeing a bit of a shift in the weather, that’s going to be a bit of a respite in some areas, but we’re not going to get substantial rain where we need it most in that Okanagan corridor. So a bit of a cooler few days ahead of us — that’s welcome — but there’s also potential for wind in there.”

Wildfires burning in the Okanagan have sent smoke throughout the area. (Courtesy BC Wildfire Service)

The most significant fire, he says, is currently the one burning on the west side of Okanagan lake, near Peachland and Summerland.

“The Mount Eneas wildfire, the Conkle Mountain wildfire, and then some others up closer towards Peachland. Then we do have another fire on the east side of the lake in Okanagan Mountain Park — that’s the Goode’s Creek fire. All of them with evacuation alerts or orders associated with them. In some cases some of them affecting up well over 1,000 people on alert, not on order at this point.”

The Mount Eneas wildfire is currently estimated at a size of 1,000 hectares and is classified as “out of control”. The Mount Conkle is significantly smaller at an estimated size of 90 hectares. Meantime, the Goode’s Creek fire has been measured at an estimated 400 hectares.

All three are believed to have been sparked by lightning.

“There is certainly potential for lightning across a pretty wide swath of the province now. There’s a good chance though that that lightning would be associated with rain. We aren’t seeing any big bull’s eye areas for the potential for dry lightning, and it’s dry lightning that really set off a number of these fires earlier in the week.”

Again, Skrepnek says winds continue to be a challenge. Gusts have picked up in the late afternoon to early evening hours over the last few days, he adds, spreading flames significantly.

NEWS 1130 Meteorologist Michael Kuss says there is some precipitation in the forecast, but, “most of the rain will be in the Thompson and North Okanagan regions, and farther to the north.”

“The negative effects from this system will be experienced in the South Okanagan, and that’s where we have pretty serious forest fire concerns. What we are going to see over the next could of days is stronger winds and the potential for some lightning,” he adds.

Crews called back

With fire activity picking up, Skrepnek says many crew members have been called in from other parts of the province seeing less activity to assist with the fires in the Okanagan. Crews on loan to other provinces have also been recalled.

“We did have well over 200 personnel deployed to Quebec and Ontario. They are going to be brought back a little early. We expect to have them all back in the province by midway through next week. It’ll actually time out fairly nicely; they’ll be able to rest here for a few days and then that will be right as the crews that we currently have out on the line here in BC are going to need to take some time off. So we’ll be able to cycle those crews over.”

He says the BC Wildfire Service would have liked to continue supporting Quebec and Ontario in their wildfire efforts, however, he admits the situation here is coming to a head and resources need to be focused back to local grounds.

A number of evacuation alerts have been rescinded, however, people in hundreds of properties are still being told they may need to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.

Evacuation orders for many properties are also in place.

The Mount Eneas and Law Creek fires have forced the Central Okanagan Regional District to issue evacuation alerts to close to hundreds of properties in parts of southern Peachland and Law Creek. Meantime, close to 40 properties threatened by the flames of the Mount Eneas wildfire are under an evacuation order in southern Peachland.

The Law Creek Wildfire on July 19th, 2018. (Courtesy BC Wildfire Service)

Evacuation alerts and orders have also been issued for the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen. People have been ordered to leave more than 40 properties because of the Mount Eneas fire, in the area just north of Summerland.

The entire Okanagan Lake Provincial Park is also affected by an evacuation order.