The horrific wildfires in the Okanagan, Shuswap, the Fraser Canyon and Lillooet areas have burned homes, forced evacuations and uprooted many other people.
The very dry conditions of the past four months throughout much of B.C., high temperatures, unpredictable winds and numerous other factors combined to create a very bad situation in the last few weeks. Nowhere was this more obvious than in West Kelowna, which has grown from the small village of Westbank to a large and sprawling suburb of Kelowna. There are many homes in areas which at one time not so many years ago were forest.
Thousands of people have been under evacuation orders and have fled to many locations.
Many have come to Surrey and other parts of the Lower Mainland, often because they have family here.
The province also declared a state of emergency, and has basically closed the Kamloops and Okanagan areas off to tourists. Given the many people who have been evacuated and the desperate need for accommodation, this was a prudent move. Hopefully it will be short in duration, as tourism is so important to all those regions.
Several highways, notably Highway 1, are closed in a number of locations due to fire.
The situation in West Kelowna, the Shuswap, the upper Fraser Canyon and areas near Lillooet are an eerie reminder of what happened in Kelowna in 2003, when the Okanagan Mountain fire destroyed hundreds of homes. That fire led to an inquiry headed by former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon, which made recommendations about ways to reduce the chances of such destruction happening again. Some of those recommendations have been followed, but at times it seems that nothing has changed.
Conditions are also different from 2003.
There have been changes in weather patterns, subtle at times, but blindingly obvious with events such as the heat dome in late June and early July of 2021, when hundreds of people in the Lower Mainland died because of record-breaking temperatures and a less-than-stellar response from emergency officials.
Hats off to the fire crews from Surrey, Delta and White Rock who responded last week to the need for many more firefighters to help reduce the chance of homes being consumed in the fires. Their willingness to respond and back up their cohorts in other parts of B.C. is commendable, and is really making a difference.
Thanks is also due to many local people and organizations who have responded in other ways to support those in need in other parts of B.C.
The entire wildfire situation should remind all of us, including residents in urban areas, to be more aware of the danger of fire. Fires in urban areas can spread quickly. Families in Clayton found that out two weeks ago when four homes were completely destroyed very quickly after a fire started in a garage. Thankfully, Surrey fire crews kept the fire from spreading further.
Public education and awareness about how easily fires can start and spread in dry conditions needs to be an ongoing effort. Whether it is ashes from burning cigarettes or joints, spilled flammable fluids, or unnecessary sparks, the causes of fires at this time of year can have devastating and drastic effects.
Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Black Press Media.