Sunday, September 21st25.4°C

Joe Rich wildfire


5 p.m. update:

A forestry initial attack is now working the ground along with firefighters from Joe Rich and Kelowna. There are five trucks on scene, two helicopters and two fixed wing aircraft.

Forestry reports the fire is about 40 per cent contained. The crews have managed to knock the flames down and they are gaining the upper hand.

"The fire is right behind my parents house. The bomber has been so low that things have fallen over in the house when it flies over. We have been watching tanker trucks go back and forth. Too close for comfort!," says Tanya Chartrand.

Fire Information officer with the Kamloops Fire Centre says the fire is about four hectares in size. They have 19 personnel on location working with local firefighters.

Two homes are still on evacuation alert, but the fire is now burning away from the properties.

Residents are putting sprinklers on top of their homes to prevent sparks from igniting their houses.

1:40 p.m.: Crews are battling a wildfire in Joe Rich.

The blaze started at around 2 p.m., it is about 100 metres from the nearest home.

RCMP report two homes are on evacuation alert. 

Forestry has been alerted and air support has already started to action the fire.

It is burning in the hills above the 8000 block of Sun Valley Road.

More details to follow.

Send photos and video to [email protected]



Easter Seal camp gets makeover

It was a million dollar makeover that left the recipients in tears.

The Easter Seals Camp Winfield has been renovated in a project that was planned for over a year, but kept secret from the Easter Seals organization until today.

From building and painting new picnic tables to landscaping and major renovation work on buildings and equipment, 285 volunteers and 135 companies came together to spruce up the camp.

And it was all the brainchild of local resident Rob Ellis.

"Unbelievable. More than I could have ever wished for, for the kids," said Nirm Blatchford, director of development for Easter Seals camps.

She and other officials were in tears as a special project was unveiled at the end of the day. A memorial pavilion in honour of children who have passed away will serve as a place of reflection for families, other campers and camp staff.

Stephen Miller, president and CEO of Easter Seals and the Lion's Society, says he only learned of the project this morning. Organizers had asked him and Blatchford months ago to keep this weekend free but they didn't know why.

"They've been working on this for a whole year and only this past Wednesday did they start moving stuff in," said Miller. "It totally took us by surprise. I only learned about it four hours ago. It's an incredible experience. It's a once in a lifetime thing. It's just amazing what they've done, that they took on an extreme makeover for this whole camp. It's the greatest surprise I have ever received."

The upgrade is far more extensive than anything the camp has seen in the past.  "As a charity we really look for every dollar we can to pay for the services," said Miller. "If we have money left over then we look at fixing things up. Normally every year we'll come up with a list of 15 or 20 items." 

Usually he says repairs are small, such as painting fences or patching broken concrete. "But this is a wish list like no one has ever seen before. It's a list of 220 items that have been done, and huge projects."

Originally the caretakers had asked organizer Rob Ellis to consider helping them with a few small upgrade projects. He said he'd get his ball team together and see what they could do. They had no inkling he would take their idea much further.

"This is going to be a million dollar project when we're done, very easily," said Akbal Mund, in charge of the volunteer base. He also hopes it inspires other community groups.

"This is a ball team. Twelve people on a ball team who decided to do something for the community," added Mund. "We thought about it and said, if we can do it how can we inspire other teams to look in their communities."

Mund says the projects were wide-ranging. "There's a new amphitheatre in the back, new roofing on the cabins, new roads have been put in, new furniture in the office, new computer equipment, new washers, dryers, fridges.  It's amazing how much product was donated."

Mund says volunteers also built a fire break with irrigation behind the heavily treed camp. "So if there was a fire there would be a 2 to 3 hour break for it to reach the buildings."

"To have the community come forward and step up and do all this, it's amazing. It just blows your mind," says Mund. While some preparation was done ahead of time the bulk of the work was completed in one day.

Camp Winfield is one of three Easter Seals Camps in BC. Each year they host more than 900 children and teens with mental or physical disabilities for week-long camps.

Run in Colour raises $75K

The Grant Thornton 5k Run in Colour event raised more than $75,000 for the Kelowna General Hospital Foundation Saturday morning. 

This is the second year of the event which brought out more than 800 runners and 150 volunteers. 

The $75,000 goes towards the new Interior Heart and Surgical Centre, which is currently under construction. 

"It should open next fall," said Chandel Christie, annual programs officer for the KGH Foundation and one of the event organizers. "Grant Thornton coming on board with a $30,000 sponsorship really started us of on a good foot."

"It's a great community effort."

Christie said they chose the run in colour idea because it was a fun way to get families of all ages involved. 

The runners started off dressed mostly in white, but every kilometre of the five-kilometre run, they were doused with a different powdered colour. 

"By the end, they're tye-dyed," she said. 

Fiona Warren came out in her wedding dress for the event. Her husband Trevor said they like to support charities and doing this run was their son's idea. 

"People like to trash their dress nowadays, right?" she said. "We got married three years ago and I've been waiting for a good opportunity to do something fun with it."

This was Dr Mike Purdon's second Run in Colour. He said the run is a great way to raise money for the KGH Foundation. 

"It's a beautiful day, the perfect time of year, it couldn't be better." 

Mother and son team Kellee and Mike Piattelli were doing the run for the first time this year.

"There's two reasons, one, to support Kelowna General Hospital - both my son and I were born in it and plus it's a good opportunity to do a run together," Kellee said. 

Although the event raised $75,000, the number of runners and volunteers was down slightly this year compared to last year, which saw more than 1,000 runners, 250 volunteers and raised over $100,000.


Free bikes for kids

The Kelowna chapter of Bicycles for Humanity is giving away bikes for kids today.

Founded in Kelowna 10 years ago, Bicycles for Humanity is a charity with 50 chapters across the world.

Their goal is to empower people in developing countries by giving them the gift of transportation. A bicycle greatly increases the mobility of an individual or family and can mean the difference between finding food, water or work. 

But today is about giving back to families in Kelowna.

"People drop off bikes they don't want, adult bikes and children's bikes, but it costs too much money to send children's bikes so we only send adult bikes which are the most usable," said Keith Germaine, a volunteer with B4H. "Sometimes a bike is a family car, so a kid's bike doesn't make sense."

The Kelowna chapter focuses on sending bikes to Ghana as Germaine and his wife have established connections there with a former Peace Corps officer. It costs about $12,000 to send a container which can hold between 450 and 480 adult bikes. 

To fit as many bikes as possible, the front wheel is removed. 

They have already sent one container in the spring and they've received so many bikes, they need to send another. 

All the work is done by volunteers and paid for by donations. 

"We've never fallen short (on funds). People are generous, they donate cars," Germaine said. "Just this last year, we got two cars each worth $3,500 and sold them for $3,500 each."

The group is always looking for donations of cash or items for auction, such as cars, to raise funds. All funds go toward transporting the bikes from Kelowna to Africa. 

They will be at the St Charles Garnier Church at 3645 Benvoulin Road until 12 p.m. Saturday. 

Surviving hurricane Odile

"We were so sad. We got to leave, they all had to stay there." 

That captures the emotional moment when a Kelowna couple, who survived hurricane Odile which ravaged the Mexican baja on Sunday, left their Mexican bus driver.

Kyle Cave, a realtor in Kelowna and his fiancée April Weslak were in Mexico for a vacation. They flew in Saturday, the day before the hurricane hit.

They were staying in the Secrets Puerto Los Cabos resort near San Jose del Cabos on the Baja peninsula.

"We started to get warnings Saturday afternoon that the storm was coming. It wasn't until the afternoon on Sunday that we got a notice that we were not supposed to be in our rooms," said Cave. "We were told to put our luggage in the bathtub and head to the ballroom. That was supposed to be the hurricane shelter."

The resort had set up lounge chairs as beds in the shelter area. Cave and Weslak took a bag with some clothes and water and set up to stay the night. 

Meanwhile, Secrets Resort was bussing in guests from affiliated resorts which were deemed not structurally adequate to stand the force of the category 4 storm. A category 5 is the strongest hurricane known.

"I would say it was about 10 p.m. or 10:30 p.m. when we were laying there, and we heard stuff hitting the roof," he said. Odile was ripping the red clay tiles off the roof and smashing them back down.

"Suddenly we heard a huge bang, and the roof caved in where a stage was set up in the ballroom."

Cave said tiles in the suspended ceiling began to float up into the ceiling cavity and at that point he and Weslak shared a look. 

"Holy sh**, it's coming through the roof," he said.

They jumped up, grabbed their bag and left their shoes and hoodies behind on the chairs. Taking shelter under a doorway, they watched as the roof broke apart and the hurricane forced its way into the shelter area.

Amid panicking guests, they moved to a cafeteria downstairs. However, water soon began to seep into that area as well, and they again heard the storm battering the roof. 

"We booted it out of there and down a hallway and found a big industrial laundry room. It had concrete above, concrete walls, and that's where we camped out for the night."

Around 11 a.m. Monday morning they emerged and realized that the whole roof of the ballroom had collapsed. (See video below)

"We would have been dead if we stayed in there," he said. 

Out of 500 rooms in the resort, about 175 of them were habitable after the storm had passed. Their room was one of them. There was no power, no communication and no water. 

Luckily, their resort was one of the few that had backup generators. They had power for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. 

"The resort staff was unbelievable, they all stuck around. We had warm meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. These people, they lost their homes, they didn't even know if their families had survived," said Weslak.

The airport was ripped apart. The Mexican government had taken over and flights were no longer coming in or going out. The driver of the WestJet bus that had originally dropped them off, came back to the resort. He had lost his house, when he left he promised to return and bring them back to the airport. 

"I gave him a golf shirt I had in my bag and we did whatever we could for him," Cave said. "Sure enough, he came back at 7 a.m. the next morning and picked up a group of 12 of us."

The resort was a mess, but as they drove away to the airport, they were witness to widespread devastation. There had been mudslides and massive flooding in many areas. The gusting 150 km/h winds had flipped cars, blown out windows in buildings and flattened homes.

"We were swerving in and out of traffic, power lines had toppled over, everything was blown out. Every single building was damaged," said Weslak. "People were looting. We heard Wal Mart and Costco had been completely looted out. We heard people were killing each other for supplies."

"Cabo was gone. Everything was destroyed."

"We got to the airport and it was like a refugee lineup. There was thousands of people there. It was all dirt, and rubble. There was nothing. Nothing left."

The couple grouped together with about a dozen Canadian and American tourists and planned to stay together, no matter what. 

After a few hours at the airport, the group was lined up on the tarmac, waiting for a military plane to take them to Guadalajara. People were passing out in the lineup from heat exposure. 

The group boarded the plane, they finally felt safe. The feeling did not last long. As the plane was about to land in Guadalara, it suddenly had to pull back up into the sky. 

"We looked back and one of the guys from the Mexican army was taking out floorboards in the aisle and jumping into the bottom of the plane," said Cave. Apparently the landing gear wasn't functioning properly and had to be manually lowered. The plane successfully landed on the second attempt.

Upon arrival, they booked a flight to Los Angeles for Wednesday night. Thursday afternoon they booked another flight and flew directly to Kelowna. 

Looking forward, Cave said the couple will return to Mexico. 

"We definitely probably aren't going to go during hurricane season. But, to be honest, we will go back. That's the best thing we can do, is go back to Cabo one day. It makes you want to go back and try to help them rebuild."

"It was emotional when they dropped us off. A woman came out of the van and we all gave her money and food we had, and she started bawling," said Weslak. "Everything was lost."

On the airplane the couple heard stories from other tourists heading home. When the storm hit, staff at many other resorts left to check on their own homes and families. 

"The tourists will be fine, once they get to the airport. It's those locals - I don't think anyone has an idea of how bad it is," said Cave. 

According to the Canadian Press, 5,000 tourists were flown out of the region by Wednesday afternoon. Officials estimated 30,000 travellers were stranded by the storm.

In the Los Cabos area, tens of thousands of residents faced a fourth day without water or power as authorities tried to restore services.

Did you escape the hurricane? Tell us your story. Send information, photos and video to [email protected]



Largest ever regional park

It’s an ecological gem; a unique, geological landmark that towers over Kelowna’s eastern boundary. Now it is protected.

Black Mountain/Sntsk‘il’ntən Regional Park has officially been announced at a ceremony with Regional District Chair Robert Hobson, Westbank First Nation Chief Robert Louie and Steve Thomson, BC Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

The creation of the 510-hectare regional park comes with $7-million in funding from the Regional Parks Legacy and Park Land Reserve funds, a $2.3-million donation through the Federal Government Ecological Gift Program and a co-tenure/management agreement between the Regional District and Westbank First Nation for a License of Occupation on 121.5-hectares of Crown Land, with a sponsorship value of $1,024,350.

This 31st Regional Park includes the purchase of 259-hectares of private land; the donation of 129.5-hectares of land through the Ecological Gifts Program and the joint Crown Land tenure with Westbank First Nation. The new park will be co-managed by the Regional District and Westbank First Nation.

Regional Board Chair Robert Hobson says, “The unique geological formation of Black Mountain is often the first thing many people see when they arrive by road or by air. It offers spectacular views but more importantly, preserves and protects a critically valuable dry grassland ecosystem, that’s under-represented and increasingly threatened and disappearing from the Okanagan valley landscape. This area supports a rich and diverse wildlife population, of which many species are endangered or threatened.”

He adds, “I’m extremely pleased that the Westbank First Nation is partnering with the Regional District in the tenure and management of important Crown Land parcels that are a key part of the new regional park. As well, on behalf of the Regional Board I thank the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations for approving our tenure agreement and seeing the value in the creation of Black Mountain/ Sntsk‘il’ntən Regional Park.”

The inclusion of the syilx/Okanagan word Sntsk‘il’ntən (sinch-keel-en-tin) in the Black Mountain park name is fitting as it translates to “the place where arrowheads/flint rock is found”. The property has additional First Nations cultural significance as there is quite an array of plants and medicines found in the area.

“Anytime an area within our traditional territory is protected, we are pleased,” says WFN Chief Robert Louie. “Lythics found in the area demonstrate it was a significant gathering place for our ancestors to make the necessary survival tools and, we can assume, it was a vantage point from which the valley below could be scoped out for wildlife and intruders."

“The provision of the Crown land grant to this new regional park is just one example of how Crown land can be used for the greater good of the community. It is also wonderful that the regional district and Westbank First Nation are able to partner on managing this park for the benefit of residents and tourists,” says Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. 

The new park will remain closed to the public while a management plan is created and trails and signage are developed that will ensure education and awareness and the protection of the sensitive grassland environment.

In 2008, the Regional Board unanimously agreed to establish a special tax requisition over five years to build the Parks Legacy Fund in order to leverage the purchase and protection of important properties for the Regional Park system. Since that time, along with funding from the Park Land Reserve Fund, $22.1-million in property purchases have been made. Along with land donations and Crown tenure agreements valued at $11.3-million, almost 900 additional hectares (2,200-acres) of land has been added to the Regional Park system worth over $33.4-million.

2014 is the 40th anniversary of the Central Okanagan Regional Park system. Since it began in the fall of 1974 and with the purchase of the almost four-hectare Kaloya Regional Park in Lake Country in early 1975, it’s grown to protect more than 1,900-hectares of land in 31 Regional Parks.


School zones back in

It's a little later than usual but schools are ready for the return of some 21,000 students, who will be arriving in many different ways.

As the school year begins, children will be traveling to and from their local schools by public or private transportation as well as on bikes, rollerblades, skateboards and foot.

As a motorist, what does that mean for you?

"It's simple: When you're driving, slow down and watch for children," said Cst Kris Clark in a release. "It doesn't matter whether or not you're in a school zone as kids have to walk from their neighbourhood to get to school so there are going to be children everywhere, even if a school isn't nearby." 

Drivers are reminded, it's not just children to be wary of, as school buses are back in service. A school bus displaying its stop sign and flashing red lights means you must stop until the lights and signs are deactivated, regardless of which direction you are headed. School buses also tend to be an obvious indicator that children will be nearby.

“Be alert and watch for kids riding to school on their bikes,” explained Regional Traffic Safety Officer Dave Gibson. “We all want our children to arrive at school and home safely.”

Members of the RCMP Central Okanagan Traffic Services and speed watch volunteers will be stepping up their presence, making school zones a priority. School zone speed limits are 30 km/h between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

"We strongly encourage students and their parents to consider walking or cycling to school to reduce traffic congestion around the schools and increase student safety," said Officer Gibson. “Or consider dropping students off at a safe drop spot close to the school but not right at the school, giving your children the opportunity for a little exercise.”

Tips for Pedestrians:

  • Remove your headphones; put away your phone, MP3 player or other gadgets when crossing a street. Focus your full attention on the road so you can see, hear and respond safely.
  • Use designated crossing points and follow pedestrian traffic signs and signals. Make eye contact with drivers, so you both know you see each other. The most common road safety error made by kids is not finding a safe place to cross.
  • Teach your child to cross at intersections that have a pedestrian crossing light or a marked crosswalk whenever possible.
  • Dress to be seen. Wear bright or light coloured clothing. In dark or bad weather, wear reflective material on clothes or accessories.
  • Always walk on the inside edge of the sidewalk—away from the road. This way, you’re further away from the traffic. If there is no sidewalk, always walk facing traffic so you can see oncoming vehicles and drivers can see you.
  • Be aware of parked vehicles in parking lots and on the road. Drivers may not see you between parked vehicles and you may not see them moving. Before crossing or walking through a parking lot, stop and look left-right-left around the parked vehicle and avoid taking unnecessary shortcuts through parking lots.

Tips for drivers:

  • When school is in session, a 30-km/h school zone speed limit is in effect from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every school day, unless otherwise posted.
  • Plan ahead and be alert. Driving routes with less traffic in the summer may now face congestion, so give yourself extra time to get to your destination. Take your time and don't rush - especially through intersections.
  • Look for children especially near or around crosswalks and intersections close to schools.
  • When dropping off children in a school zone stop and allow them to exit onto the sidewalk side of the car. Never allow a child to cross mid-block.
  • If a vehicle is stopped in front of you or in the lane next to you, they may be yielding for a pedestrian, so be prepared to stop.
  • Always watch for pedestrians when you’re backing up. Before you get into your vehicle, make it a habit to walk around your vehicle to ensure no small kids are behind it. And remember, children will notice your driving behaviour as well as your pedestrian behaviour, so please set a good example for them.

Tickets and fines under the BC Motor Vehicle Act:

Description                                               Fines

Speed in school / playground zone          $196-$253

Fail to stop for school bus                        $167

Fail to yield to pedestrian                         $167

Pass vehicle yielding to pedestrian          $167

Disobey school guard / patrol                   $167


Coopers evacuated

A faulty HVAC (Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system) machine had shoppers scrambling out of the Cooper's in Rutland as smoke filled the aisles.

At first it was thought roofers working above the store might have started a fire.

“There were roofers up and sometimes (they can) cause a fire with their roofing techniques, but that was not the case this time. Fortunately it was the HVAC, sounds like the motor went in it. It looks like a belt in the venting system would have caused it,” explains Platoon Captain Kelly Stephens.

The HVAC system then pushed the smoke into the building.

“It did have a pungent odour that went through the building. So to err on the side of caution we vacated the building and we went and checked all the different areas with our thermal imaging camera and heat guns and we found no problem.”

After the all clear, the roofers were able to continue their work and Cooper's reopened. 

Attacked dogs get support

Just days after three rottweilers were attacked while they slept in Kelowna, the community is rallying together to help pay the vet bills.

The dogs, aged 8-months to 10-years, were attacked by what the owners believe was a machete early Tuesday morning.

Injuries ranged from a fractured skull, a sliced off ear and extensive blood loss that cost one dog their life.

One-year-old Lola had lost too much blood by the time her owners found her the next morning and could not be saved, but 10-year-old Sheena and 8-month-old Rocky are thriving under the watchful eye of Dr. Jatinder Mundi.

“They are recovering well. They are eating, they are moving. I believe Rocky will go home today but Sheena will need to stay for a few more days,” says Mundi.

He estimates the vet bills will be in the thousands of dollars as the dogs require serious long-term care and extensive surgeries. He says he is shocked someone could do this to a defenseless animal

“I don’t know how someone could do this. If they have something against another human being they shouldn’t be attacking the pet. I strongly believe it was a human attack on the dogs.”

Owners of the dogs, Charlene Wiebe and Lyall Grexton are still shaken about the experience but say they are humbled by the community support.

“It is amazing. It is totally amazing how people come together when there is something so horrific that happens. The generosity and the thoughts and prayers and condolences that have come our way have been unbelievable,” says Wiebe who adds she has been getting calls and emails and support from all across Canada.

The Kelowna couple are confident they know who attacked their dogs and believe it was someone who knew them, the dogs and their home.

“We have a pretty good idea who it is but there is investigation going on with the RCMP. It was someone we knew, we believe. We started getting threats on Saturday and then sometime overnight Monday this happened,” explains Wiebe.

Police did arrest a man in relation to an earlier alleged assault on Grexton and are working on the lead that the two incidents are related.

People who would like to donate and support the medical care of the dogs can call the Burtch Animal Hospital at 250-860-8000 to donate via credit card, or they can go into their office at 1455 Harvey Ave to donate by credit, cash or debit.

Okanagan pet rescue society CritterAid is also accepting donations for the dogs online. You can donate online via paypal here.

Come and get it!

An alternative to food trucks is rolling out in Kelowna.

Donnie Ungaro is the tattooed "chef executive officer" at Culinary Ink - the local business bringing food bikes to Kelowna. 

Culinary Ink is partnering with Soles4Souls, Kelowna Community Foodbank and Metro Central to increase revenue for non-profits and offering training and work experience to marginalized people. 

"The idea is self sufficiency for non profits, as well as job creation," said Ungaro. 

Each bike is purchased by a non-profit organization and is operated by their membership. 

Bikes run for $12,000 and offer a way for organizations to raise money, easing their reliance on grants and donations. 

Ungaro gets a royalty from each bike and intends to donate 20 per cent of his net profits back into charities. 

Thursday was the unveiling of the first food bike in Kelowna, and two more will be launched next week.

Ungaro hopes to have six bikes by March of 2015. After that, he hopes to go across the country.

"We have interest in Vernon, Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto already," he said. The food bike season currently will run from March to November, but they are working on ways to extend it. 

Each bike is a fully licensed mobile kitchen, including hot water and fridges.

The menu has a comfort food feel and will offer two $10 options everyday. Today is 'fat food Friday' and pulled pork and kimchi grilled cheese or mac 'n cheese pulled pork are on offer. Everything comes with their signature garlic butter popcorn. 

David Purdon at the Kelowna Community Foodbank said this social enterprise brings blended value to their organization. It raises money for the Foodbank and helps their membership.

"This is a new direction for the Foodbank and we're very excited about it," he said. "The operators will be members of our various client groups. The project is providing jobs, skills training, work experience, mentorship - there's so many upsides to this project." 

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