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Fire dept. Xmas safety tips

The Penticton Fire Department is offering Christmas holiday safety tips, following a house fire in the city last weekend.

In this situation, the blaze in the 200 block of Okanagan Avenue West was caused by a candle in a bathroom.

"This is the time of year when candles are popular, and they should never be left unattended," said Jody Fotherby, operations assistant for the department.

Firefighters responded to the call at 1:48 p.m. last Sunday. The fire was contained to the upstairs bathroom and crews were able to get the upper hand before it spread.

The residents of the home were OK, but expected to be out for several days or weeks while restoration crews restored the damage. 

In addition to not leaving candles unattended, Fotherby suggested never leaving small children alone with lit candles, making sure they are not close to anything combustible and never putting candles on a tree.

"Candles should be put in a holder, preferrably a glass one so the flame is inside," she said.

Other fire safety tips for the holiday season are making sure decorations don't block Christmas exits in the home, having working smoke alarms and a family fire escape plan.

If people have company, it's a good idea to talk to friend and relatives about that escape plan.

For Christmas trees, make sure they are watered regularly. For lights in the home and artificial trees make sure they are CSA/ULC approved.

It is also never a good idea to hang outdoor Christmas lights using staples.

When cooking Christmas dinner have a three foot safety zone around the stove. It is wise to turn pot handles toward the back and small children should not be running in  the kitchen.

Fotherby added that the holidays can bring additional concerns, but it's important at any time of the year to have working smoke alarms and a fire escape plan.



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South Okanagan bird count

Hawk-eyed volunteers in the South Okanagan have begun braving weather conditions to count birds during the annual Christmas Bird Count.

Every year the counts, conducted both here and across Canada, utilize the power of volunteers to track the health of the populations at a scale that professional scientists could never accomplish alone.

Data compiled will record every individual bird and bird species seen in a specific area, contributing to a vast citizen science network that continues a tradition stretching back more than 100 years.

"This is not just about counting birds," said Dick Cannings, coordinator for all Canadian counts at Bird Studies Canada. "Data from the Christmas Bird Count is at the heart of hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies and inform decisions by Environment Canada and provincial wildlife managers across Canada.

Because birds are early indicators of environmental threats to habitats we share, this is a vital survey of North America and, increasingly, the Western Hemisphere."

Penticton birders did their count on Dec. 14, the first day of the count period. Other are scheduled in the South Okanagan in the weeks ahead.

Ninety eight species of birds were seen, which is just above the long term average for the count.

Highlights included a young Peregrine Falcon that was first seen in Naramata, then spotted again in downtown Penticton.

Record numbers of European Starlings (11,898) and Bohemian Waxwings (7,849) have been reported.

The Apex-Hedley count took place on Dec. 16. That count is done mostly at high elevations and only 45 species were tallied, but one of those was a rare sighting of a White-tailed Ptarmigan near the Nickel Plate ski trails.

There are also come upcoming bird counts in the South Okanagan:

Dec. 20 in Cawston

Dec. 21 in Vaseux Lake, and Kaleden to North Oliver

Dec. 27 in Osoyoos-Oliver

Jan. 3 in Bridesville

Jan. 4 in Princeton

Those participating in any of the counts, can reach Cannings at (250) 493-3393.



Observing the winter solstice

The public is again being invited to echo the ancient custom of observing the winter solstice at the Okanagan's own standing stone structure 'Pen Henge' on Munson Mountain in Penticton.

The event, which marks the Sun's southernmost setting point, will take place on the afternoon of Dec. 21, with interested people gathering around 2:45 p.m. in anticipation of sunset at 3:27 p.m.

Pen Henge designer Chris Purton, who is a retired scientist at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory at White Lake, noted that this year the actual time of the solstice will be at 3:03 p.m., just a short time before the sunset time around 3:27 p.m.

Because of this, the earlier gathering time will allow the group to mark the actual moment of solstice as well as the sunset phenomenon when the rays of the setting sun will extend from the winter solstice stone to the heel stone.

The solstice gathering is being organized by the Penticton meeting group of the Okanagan Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (OCRASC) and members will be on hand to answer questions as well as describe the significance of what is taking place.

The Pen Henge standing stone array is located at the top of Munson Mountain above the large 'Penticton' sign on the east side of Okanagan Lake.

The array consists of four stones that delineate the sunset points on the four cardinal dates of the year. Anchored by the Heel Stone, the Equinox Stone points to the Sun's sunset point at both the Spring and Fall Equinoxes, while the other two stones mark the Winter and Summer Solstice setting points respectively.

A brass plaque with a brief explanation of the array is permanently attached to the top of the heel stone.



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Big turnout for hamper distribution

Hundreds of Penticton residents will have a brighter Christmas this year, thanks to the efforts of the Salvation Army.

On Thursday, the long existing charitable organization, again handed out boxes of food and toys at their Christmas Hamper Distribution at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre.

"It's a sense of giving hope, because that's what we do," said Major Jo Sobool, as she greeted those waiting in line.

The Salvation Army has given away the hampers since it was founded nearly 150 years ago. In Penticton, the tradition of bringing Christmas cheer to those in need, started more than 90 years ago.

Sobool said people pre-register for the hampers, and they anticipated giving out 750 this time around.

The number is around the same as last year.

"I think the need is about the same," she said. "But there are always new people.

Families with children can also pre-register to get age appropriate toys at the distribution.

On Thursday, volunteers handed out boxes filled to the brim with fruit, vegetables, bread, milk and more, as well as turkeys, to people ranging from young families to seniors.

The recipients were then assisted in taking the hampers to their cars.

"I am very happy, because we will have turkey for Christmas," said Penticton resident Eileen Paul.

Naleen Barchuk, a recipient, who also volunteers, said it is great to get assistance and help out.

"I am a single mother of a 14-year-old, and it's hard to afford things at Christmas," she said. "But even though I am struggling myself, it's important to give back. It's nice to see everyone with a smile when they get help."



Council votes for polling station

Penticton residents will have a second place to vote and more choices when it comes to advance voting in the next election.

The decision to make changes was made by council this week, after hearing a staff report on the November election.

"It's good to debrief now when it is fresh in our minds, rather than four years down the road," said Mayor Andrew Jakubeit.

In addition to adding the second polling station and a third advance voting day, there will be a requirement for candidates to obtain 10 signatures for nomination documents as part of eligibility.

Changing rules around election/political signage will be further researched and brought back to a meeting in February.

In the staff report prior to council decision, corporate officer Dana Schmidt discussed complaints about the size, placement and number of signs.

To deal with the problem of long lines, like those experienced at the trade and convention centre in November, she suggested encouraging advance poll voting.

Other ideas were hiring more staff on election day, changing the configuration of the trade and convention centre to accommodate more voters and better addressing the needs of persons with mobility challenges.

Council, however, decided to add the second polling station as a solution to long lines.

"With our size we should have more than one polling station," said Jakubeit. "I am sure some people saw the lines and the full parking lot and didn't vote. We don't really know."

The mayor said making improvements down the road will hopefully get more people out come election time.

"We need to do a better job of getting people to come out and vote," he said. "The current 31.4 per cent is still very low."



Kettle campaign needs boost

The Salvation Army's Christmas Kettle Campaign is getting great support in Penticton, but it is behind in donations.

Major Jo Sobool says their goal has been to raise $90,000 and they are currently just over halfway there. 

"We are always concerned as we get near the end of the year, but we are hoping for a good last week," she said.

The kettle campaign is the Salvation Army's big fundraiser of the year. All the money raised goes towards the food bank, to help people out at Christmas time and later throughout the year.

At the start of the campaign, the Salvation Army also put out a call for volunteers, and there is still a need for  extra help as things winds down.

People can drop off their donation at kettles set up around the city, including Safeway and Walmart.

Sobool said she wants to thank everyone who has donated so far, and hopes the charitable assistance continues in the days ahead.

"There are many people who need our help in the community, and this is our way to give assistance," she said.

The campaign lasts until Christmas Eve.

People interested in volunteering can call the Salvation Army church office, at (250) 492-6494.



Stolen shelter dog returned

Cooper is back safe and sound after he was stolen from the South Okanagan-Similkameen SPCA on Oct. 8 of this year.

After being one of 21 animals rescued from terrible conditions in the North Okanagan, he was snatched overnight from the SPCA shelter in Penticton.

The one-year-old miniature pinscher-pug mix had finally found a safe place to sleep when someone scaled the fence of the shelter, cut a hole and stole the dog. The RCMP followed up with tips received at the time, but were unable to locate him.

“Being reunited with Cooper is the best Christmas present I could imagine,” says Penticton SPCA manager Corrine Ross. “We were all devastated when he was stolen and we have been worried sick about him for months. We had no idea where he was or if he was safe.”

Ross says a tip about Cooper’s whereabouts was received on Dec. 15 via social media and Cooper was located.

“Unfortunately, the RCMP has indicated that there is not enough evidence to proceed further with the case, but we are so thrilled to have Cooper back with us,” says Ross.

The nervous pup, whose identity was confirmed through his pet identification tattoo, is a little underweight but is responding well in their care.

“Cooper is currently being cared for and pampered in an SPCA foster home, and an adoption has been lined up,” adds Ross, who says the Penticton SPCA is extremely grateful for the tip that led to Cooper’s return. “We are just so relieved and happy that he is home for the holidays.”



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