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West Kelowna  

Space heater sparks fire

A short circuit in a space heater sparked a house fire overnight in West Kelowna.

Firefighters responded to the blaze about 1:45 a.m. this morning at a home on the 1400 block of West Kelowna Road.

Flames from the heater spread to nearby furniture, and smoke was billowing from the front of the two-storey home. Smoke detectors alerted residents to the fire, and they had successfully knocked down the flames with fire extinguishers when fire crews arrived, assistant fire chief Darren Lee said.

Firefighters removed several pieces of burned furniture, but damage to the home was limited mostly to smoke.

Two residents were placed in the care of Emergency Support Services overnight, and fire investigators are expected to return to the home this morning.

While the residents were able to suppress the fire, WKFR reminds anyone using a fire extinguisher that ensuring your own safety takes precedence over trying to save property.  

Following a similar fire in December 2016, the department alerted the National Fire Protection Association and B.C.'s fire commissioner to the following stats:

  • Heating equipment fires accounted for 16 per cent of all reported home fires in 2009-2013 (second behind cooking) and 19 per cent of home fire deaths (second behind smoking materials).
  • Space heaters are involved in two of every five of home heating fires and accounting for 84 per cent of associated deaths.
  • The leading factor contributing to home heating fire deaths (56 per cent) was heating equipment too close to furniture, clothing or bedding.


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Truth about homeless

The number of homeless people living in West Kelowna is increasing and a church wants to make sure people know the truth about those people.

Parks and fleet supervisor for the City of West Kelowna said earlier this month that a number of parks in the community have been affected by broken glass, intentional damage, public defecation, urination, graffiti, camp fires and litter.

Just a few metres down from the Emmanuel Church there are at least five people who have taken shelter in the park and set up a community of tents. Jeff Bjorgan, lead pastor at Emmanuel Church said homeless people have been living in that area for years.

Sean Airth is the manager of the cold shelter program at the church and said the people that come to them are hard working and many have jobs in society.

“Our guests and the homeless community in general are very hard working, very resilient people – and I would like people to know that,” he said.

The shelter had to bump its occupancy from 10 to 15 this year, after the number of people that were showing up for their services increased.

“We were having to turn people away quite frequently which is a terribly heartbreaking thing to have to do,” he said.

Individuals who want to stay at the shelter need to arrive by 7 p.m. and respect the rules of the program.

They are then provided with a shower, a meal in the evening, laundry, a safe spot to store belongings, breakfast and a bag of lunch in the morning.  

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in homelessness, there is a housing crisis in West Kelowna and in Central Okanagan,” he said. “Vacancy rates are extremely low and if you add onto that maybe the person has developmental disabilities, maybe physical disabilities, maybe they are elderly, maybe they have pets – it becomes very hard to find a place around here.”

In the report, it stated there are unfortunate spinoffs from the Emmanuel Assembly Church’s honourable humanitarian efforts to better our community.

City staff are currently investigating solutions.

“From the people I know here I can say our guests are very kind people, respectful, I can think of five of them who leave here and go right to their jobs first thing in the morning. Some of our other guests have developmental disabilities and some of our guests here are elderly,” he said.

Airth said he believes the shelter is part of the solution and does help people. The church is planning on speaking to city council about their report on March 28 at 8 p.m.

“I don’t think we are doing enough,” said Airth. “I’d like to do more.”



Search for crash driver

UPDATE: Monday, March 20, 12:30 p.m.

An official from the crash scene says the driver was never missing, but was instead taken to hospital by paramedics after the crash.


UPDATE: Sunday, March 19, 2:45 p.m.

West Kelowna RCMP are searching for a driver who crashed a vehicle on Highway 97 near Nancee Way Overpass around 2 p.m. Sunday.

Highway traffic was tied up by the crash, the second of the day. 

The northbound vehicle took out a sign as it crashed into the median on the highway.

Police, an ambulance and a fire crew attended but the driver is reported to have left the scene.

Officers have been seen searching ditches and nearby trees.

One northbound lane was closed due to the crash.

Around 11 a.m., a three-vehicle crash on Highway 97 at Daimler Drive shut down a northbound lane on the highway.



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Crash on Hwy 97

At least two vehicles were involved in a smash up on Highway 97 at Daimler Drive in West Kelowna around 11 a.m. on Sunday.

A West Kelowna fire department crew extracted at least one person from a pickup using the jaws of life.

It's reported that only one lane northbound is currently open.



Concern over homeless

A West Kelowna Church and two schools have new neighbours living in tents, just down the road.

At least five people are living in tents on Emmanuel Church's property, right beside Highway 97 and Glen Canyon Regional Park.

Three tents and several dogs are visible from the highway, tucked behind the trails.

The lead pastor at Emmanuel Church said they are aware of the people living on their property.

“We haven’t traditionally policed down in the gully areas because for many years homeless have lived down there,” said Jeff Bjorgan. “Certainly, if there are concerns from the neighbours we will investigate and tell the people living down there to remove themselves from the premises”

A Castanet reader said he was concerned about how close the people were living to the school.

“This is a long-term problem,” said Bjorgan. “It’s not new that people have been living in the Glen Canyon area.

Bjorgan added there is a homeless situation on the West Side and “we need to learn how to deal with it.”

“When we tell them to leave our property they will find another piece of property to live on.”

If you have a news tip you can send them to [email protected]



Guilty in bridge chaos

One of the men involved in a police chase that closed down the William R. Bennett Bridge in January pleaded guilty Thursday morning.

Ryan Regan and Michael Dennison were arrested at gunpoint on the morning of Jan. 12 after police attempted to pull them over in Penticton.

The pair took off and made their way north, where West Kelowna police unsuccessfully tried to stop them at Gorman Bros. Lumber Mill by blocking the highway.

The two men were eventually stopped and apprehended at gunpoint on the bridge, before they could make their way into Kelowna.

A Kelowna man who was travelling in Thailand at the time says the men were driving his recently stolen car during their flight from police.

Regan, 33, pleaded guilty to dangerous operation of vehicle, flight from police and assault with a weapon Thursday morning. A presentence report will be prepared for Regan, and is expected to be completed by May 11.

The other man in the vehicle, 25-year-old Michael Dennison, is expected to plead guilty next week. He faces charges of possession of stolen property under $5,000, dangerous operation of a vehicle, flight from police, operating a vehicle while disqualified and breach of probation, but it is unclear what charges he intends to plead guilty to.

Both men have prior convictions.

Regan has previously been convicted of fleeing police, and spent a year in jail for a break and enter in Kelowna in May 2010.

Dennison had recently been released from jail prior to January's incident, after serving 102 days for theft of a vehicle and dangerous operation of vehicle. He was on probation and a driving prohibition when he was arrested in January.



Flying the birthday flag

Canada's sesquicentennial flag will adorn municipal buildings throughout the South and Central Okanagan.

Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola MP Dan Albas is touring the municipalities through the riding drumming up interest in Canada's upcoming 150th birthday celebrations.

Albas has launched the Canada 150 flag program.

He is presenting each municipality with its own special Canada 150 flag.

"There are so many fun and positive events being planned across the country, and Dan wants to help communities with their celebrations," a news release stated.
 
The first Canada 150 flag presentation took place Tuesday in West Kelowna. More presentations will come in the weeks leading up to Canada Day.



Scavenger hunt for 150th

Peachland is hosting a scavenger hunt to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday.

The Peachland’s Historic Scavenger Hunt takes place between March 21 and 24 – and it's free for all ages.

It's centred around Peachland Historic School and its surrounding grounds, at 5684 Beach Ave. 

A Canada 150 opening ceremony celebration will take place March 24 at the school and adjacent Cousins Park from 1 to 3 p.m.

To join in the hunt, pick up a program at the Peachland Visitor Centre, Okanagan Boys & Girls Club, Peachland Art Gallery or Peachland Community Centre.



Parents defend school's food

Parents have come to the defence of a West Kelowna school after a student captured images of the food she was receiving as part of the school's lunch program.

Randy Millis raised concerns about his daughter’s lunches at Chief Tomat Elementary School and said he was worried about how nutritious the food is.

“She in many cases was getting no veggie servings or was getting a baby carrot or two and a slice of cucumber,” he said. “I know they have quite a challenge with their budget of feeding 50 kids, but to me it really doesn’t seem to be at par or appetizing. It looked gross, actually.”

Other parents reached out to voice their concerns after the story was published on Castanet.

Stephanie Grace Derkatch said she would like to give praise to the principal, teachers and chef for the current meal program.

“Sure, the food is not gourmet, but it's certainly not gross,” said Derkatch. “I'm grateful they have the food to feed our children and they feed the ones who can't afford lunch. I'm grateful they take the time to even set up such a thing as hot lunch in the first place.”

Brent Stevenson, a parent of a student who has received paid hot lunches for years, said the people who run the program do their best to provide for the students and should be commended.

“The school is providing a service, but if they don't like the service, they don't have to participate in it,” said Bruno Rossi. “At the same time, yes, I do believe that the school should provide healthy lunches, so keep the discussion going until all the parents are satisfied.”

A spokesperson for Central Okanagan Public Schools clarified that the meals are created by the school’s chef. He said there is a "health promoting school committee" that offers informal consultation to the school regarding food services, but that it does not play an authoritative role.

“It’s more consultative, they are a supportive role, not an authoritative role,” said the spokesperson.

The chef was hired for his experience, according to the spokesperson.

“He was formerly, I believe, the chef for the Grand Okanagan and he is currently a foods teacher at Okanagan College,” said the spokesperson. “In terms of nutrition, he follows the provincial nutritional guidelines.”

The B.C. food and beverage guidelines for schools states that vegetables and fruit should be offered in a variety of colours; green, blue, orange, red, yellow and white. It also recommends an emphasis on dark green and orange vegetables and seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables when they are available.

According to the spokesperson, nothing at the school is deep fried and confirmed that students do have the option to receive fresh fruit and vegetables from the office.



Shelter responds to report

A West Kelowna church that operates a shelter mentioned in a city report that sounded the alarm over vandalism linked to transients and the homeless agrees there is a homeless problem in the community.

And Emmanuel Church says it is working to be part of the solution.

"We have a good relationship with the city and with the RCMP and see ourselves as friends and allies when it comes to addressing homelessness in West Kelowna," says Emmanuel Church in a statement.

"Homelessness has been a growing problem in West Kelowna for many years. We don’t see ourselves as part of the problem, but part of the solution."

In a report presented to West Kelowna council Tuesday, staff outlined the fallout from a spike in homelessness

It says numerous parks in the community have been affected by broken glass, intentional damage, public defecation and urination, graffiti, camp fires and litter. Meanwhile, businesses are having to clean urine and feces from stairwells. There is concern needles are hidden in the landscaping.

The report says the problems exist, in part, due to the shelter operated by Emmanuel Church.

"Churches are magnets to the disenfranchised, and we were seeing an uptick in encounters with transients and the homeless over the last few years," said Emmanuel in the statement.

It said it opened a temporary cold-weather shelter, which closes in March, because people were sleeping on sidewalks and in parks in the area. The shelter averages about 15 people a night, most of whom consider West Kelowna their home. 

They arrive at 7 p.m., eat a meal, sleep through the night and then are given a bagged lunch and leave by 8 a.m. 

"Although the program does provide a place for people who may be struggling with addictions and mental illness, it does not tolerate inappropriate behaviour," said the church. 

"At the end of the day, we believe that all of us as citizens need a made-in-West Kelowna solution for addressing homelessness. And we would like to partner with the city for the best possible solution. 

"I would love to see the city initiate a homelessness task force to present recommendations for dealing with a problem that affects us all." 

The director of the church's shelter program will be presenting to town council at its next meeting.



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