Ex chief: Hit the fires hard

Former Kelowna Fire Chief Gerry Zimmermann can't understand why fire officials don't just hammer even the smallest of fires with everything they have.

Zimmermann was Kelowna's fire chief during the Okanagan Mountain Park fire in 2003.

That fire started with an early-morning lightning strike. Instead of extinguishing it right away, provincial forestry officials let it burn.

The resulting wildfire forced the evacuation of more than 30,000 people, and saw the loss of more than 240 homes, about 264,000 hectares of timber and several of the Myra Canyon trestles.

"I don't know the full particulars, but it sure seems to be the same," Zimmermann said of similarities between 2003 and the current Good Creek fire.

The current fire, which has grown exponentially, started from a single lightning strike Tuesday night. The BC Wildfire Service kept an eye on what was called a spot fire while they determined how to deploy resources for the nearly two dozen lightning-caused fires.

Castanet has received many emails and phone calls from people who believe the province dropped the ball.

"I don't disagree with their fears. I don't want to be an armchair expert, but during our fires our guys said the same thing. If we had enough manpower, we would like to go and kill that thing," Zimmermann said.

"The idea of letting it smolder and not putting it out completely scares me quite frankly. If you have something like that in my estimation, why wouldn't you just go in and completely extinguish it to the best of your ability."

Jurisdictional boundaries kept the Kelowna Fire Department from intervening 15 years ago.

Zimmermann said members of his crew asked for the resources to kill the fire soon after it started, but were told it was outside their jurisdiction.

But he said, given a chance to do it again, he would do it differently.

"I would say bring in everything you have right now and worry about the cost later on. Too often, these decisions are made based more on money than anything," he said.

"Just throw everything at it and to hell with the jurisdictions and to hell with the boundary lines."


Tourism fighting the fires

Tourism Kelowna’s primary goal this week is to get as many facts out to as many people as possible and as quickly as it can.

“We learned a lot of lessons as an industry last year with not just the fires, but the floods,” Tourism Kelowna president and CEO Lisanne Ballantyne said.

Tuesday’s lightning that sparked large wildfires in the Okanagan is big news, and Tourism Kelowna wants to make sure potential tourists don’t think the entire region is burning.

“We learned that you good folks in media have a huge influence on what the rest of Canada is thinking about Kelowna. So no pressure,” Ballantyne said with a laugh.

“I will repeat what our staff and I have been saying all week, that Kelowna is safe, open for business, and our hotels and our attractions are ready to continue welcoming people. It might be hazy out, but it’s still warm and wonderful for some sun and fun out here. Pack your bags.”

Ballantyne believes her organization is better prepared to manage situations like this week’s wildfires after creating a specific protocol for significant incidents that could affect tourism. It gathers as much information as possible from more than 900 stakeholders across the region and then dispenses it just as quickly.

It asks that tourist destinations, like campgrounds, contact them with any pertinent information to share with the world, and it receives real-time information from Central Okanagan Emergency Operations.

“Like I’ve been doing all morning, I get on the phone and send e-mails, and I want to hear from folks on the business side about what’s happening and what kind of messages we have to get out,” Ballantyne said.

For more on this story, visit Okanagan Edge.

Good Creek fire grows

Alanna Kelly

UPDATE: 9:25 p.m.

A resident in the Kettle Valley area says the wind appears to be blowing south, pushing smoke from the Good Creek Wildfire away from Kelowna.

This will come as some good news for those under an evacuation alert on the south end of Lakeshore Road, where wind had been pushing the 400-hectare wildfire northwards through much of Thursday. 

Regardless of the direction though, the strong winds do not bode well for fire fighting efforts across the Valley. 

UPDATE: 6:45 p.m.

BC Wildfire Service says the Good Creek wildfire burning in Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park has increased to an estimated 400 hectares in size.

UPDATE: 6 p.m.

BC WildFire Service fire information officer Noelle Kekula said air crews are doing their best to see through smoke and get an estimate size of the Good Creek wildfire.

Fourteen helicopters have been assigned to the entire area around the Good Creek and Mt. Eneas wildfires.

The Good Creek, in Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park is still estimated at 340 hectares in size and is being solely tackled by air.

“We’ve been using helicopters all day to action the fire,” said Noelle “We haven’t seen very aggressive fire behaviour on it today.”

Kekula said the fire might have grown, but they won’t know until their air crews update them.

“We have people out there flying today getting an accurate perimeter of the fire, it is the best we can with the smoke,” she said. “It is a bit tricky.”

She added they are still flying and once they are back they will update with more accurate information.

UPDATE: 5:30 p.m.

Gusty wind is starting to pick up near Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park pushing the Good Creek wildfire.

BC Wildfire Service has mapped the area that is currently burning.

UPDATE: 4:30 p.m.

Residents living on Lakeshore Road watched helicopters bucket a growing wildfire on Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park that's knocking on their doorstep Thursday.

The Good Creek Wildfire has grown to 340 hectares since it was sparked by lightning on Tuesday night.

Those who lived through the infamous 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park Wildfire in the same area say it’s all happening again.

Resident Lorraine Walton said it's time for her to pack up, just like in 2003.

“Been there done this," she said. "I’ve spent six weeks with a garbage bag. I know how much fun that is. I spent 10 years replanting and rebuilding the five acres, I am not doing it again.”

That regrowth catching fire is a big concern now for Walton, who thinks wind could push embers to her area and spark more flames.

“I’ve lived here since 2003 and always the wind comes up at night,” she said “The wind is going to come up tonight.”

Walton said wildfire crews needed to get on this fire immediately, but didn't, much like in 2003.

“They are not getting on it, just like last time and now it is a big problem,” she said.

Resident Dave Rolleston’s home was destroyed in 2003 and he said this is becoming all too familiar.

“There was a lot of fuel burned in 2003, so we are getting a little bit used to this,” he said.

Rolleston said he went out on the lake on his Sea-Doo, and believes the fire is about two kilometres away from his home.

“We are supposed to get wind later on,” he said. “I think they are doing a great job pushing it back as far as they can.”

The BC Wildfire Service last said the fire was at 340 hectares early Thursday morning. They've not been able to provide any updates since then.

The fire is now listed as an “interface fire.”

Alanna Kelly

ORIGINAL: 11:15 a.m.

Residents on a section of Lakeshore Road have been placed on alert as a wildfire continues to creep closer to their homes.

Lightning ignited the Good Creek wildfire on Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park Tuesday night and it turned into an inferno overnight growing to over 200 hectares.

Properties on 6006 to 8888 Lakeshore Road have been placed on evacuation alert and should be prepared to leave on short notice.

Central Okanagan Emergency Operations say 15 properties are on the alert as of Wednesday night.

“Residents in the affected area should be prepared to be away from their homes for an extended period of time, make arrangements for pets and pack essential items such as medicines and important documents,” said Central Okanagan Emergency Operations.

Castanet News reporter Alanna Kelly is heading to the scene to speak with residents and get an update on the status of the Good Creek wildfire.

Send your photographs, videos and updates to [email protected] or call 250-860-5050


Dilworth fire investigated

UPDATE: 8:30 p.m.

A grass fire on the south side of Dilworth Mountain Thursday afternoon is being investigated by police and fire investigators.

Fourteen firefighters and three trucks were dispatched to the area at about 4:30 p.m, where they found grass and brush on fire, burning an area of 150 feet by 80 feet.

“The Kelowna crews quickly knocked down the fire and followed up with a hand guard around the perimeter,” said Kelowna Fire Department platoon captain Dennis Miller.

No buildings were threatened by the fire.

ORIGINAL: 5 p.m.

A grass fire broke out in the Dilworth area near the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery just before 5 p.m. Thursday, but thanks to quick action from fire crews, the fire has been knocked down. 

A witness driving by says he saw heavy smoke from the mountain. Fire crews were dispatched immediately and knocked down the blaze, which was reported to be 150 by 80 feet. 

Crews remain on scene, putting out remaining hotspots. 

Big White offers help

Big White is stepping up in a big way.

Michael J Ballingall tells Castanet,"I know this is sensitive but we have open hotels, campgrounds and RV sites. Those people that are getting moved out of campsites might find this the closest alternative."

Residents being evacuated from Peachland and Good Creek are scrambling to try and find places to stay. Both the Okanagan north and south campgrounds have been closed due to wildfires.

The picture Ballingall sent us even shows some snow on the mountain for those trying to beat the heat.

"Here’s a picture from 8:15 this morning in the Gem Lake area."

Wildfire Update July 19

Castanet's Wildfire Update for Thursday, July 19, with reporter Wayne Moore.

Your dramatic fire photos

The Mount Eneas fire located four kilometres south of Peachland now sits at 500 hectares in size.

The Mount Eneas blaze is pouring smoke across the valley mixing in with the Good Creek fire across Okanagan Lake, five kilometres east of Peachland.

Good Creek sits at 340 hectares. Helicopters are bucketing the interface fire today and more resources are on the way.

Castanet readers submitted spectacular photos of both fires.

Coitus interruptus

UPDATE 2:47 p.m.

The video of the couple having sex on the lawn of the Rotary Centre for the Arts finishes with the female apologizing as the anonymous tipster indicates they are breaking the law and that they could be seen from nearby windows. The man says "I'm sorry too but stop f*#&ing filming!"

The city of Kelowna also responded with the statement, "our comment is that this kind of lewd public behaviour should be reported to the RCMP."

ORIGINAL 2:02 p.m.

The city of Kelowna may have wildfires bearing down on it but life goes on.

One Castanet reader sent us another video of a man and a woman having sex in broad daylight by the Rotary Centre for the Arts.

Perhaps the heightened sense of danger, caused by wildfires and evacuations made these two feel the need for a little afternoon delight, or they simply don't care.

Regardless this is now the second "sex in public scene" we have seen since the summer of 2018 started.

If this keeps up our city could become known as "Kinky Kelowna."

The person who sent us the video, which we have chosen not to publish, indicated,  "this was taken yesterday (Wednesday) by the Rotary Arts Centre on the corner of Water and Cawston. Children hold day camps and are in the area almost every day."

The person who wishes to remain anonymous took the video to illustrate the challenges some people face simply walking through some parts of Kelowna.

Castanet has reached out to city officials for comment.

Knox Mountain closing

The top half of Knox Mountain Drive has now been closed due to fire and smoke.

Parks Manager Blair Stewart tells Castanet, "the upper portion of Knox Mountain Park Drive will be closed to vehicles as of Saturday, July 21 due to dry conditions and a high fire risk. Vehicle traffic will not be allowed past the gate at the first lookout until conditions improve."

People can still access the first lookout of Knox Mountain by vehicle, if you want to go further you will have to go by foot or bicycle.

“Not only have we been experiencing hot weather over the past week, but the forecast indicates that temperatures will remain high over the coming weeks,” says Blair Stewart, Parks Services Manager. “Natural parks, grass, trees, and underbrush can easily ignite when the conditions are this dry. While the park is still open to visitors, this closure helps reduce the risk of accidental human-caused fires.”

The Knox Mountain Drive road closure will remain in effect until City staff has assessed that it is safe to reopen the road.

Man dies on street

UPDATE 12:10 p.m.

Castanet News has spoken to a woman who says she had to be escorted past the body of an elderly man who appears to have died on the street.

The caller who wanted to remain anonymous says, "the body was clearly at the bus stop on the south side of Sutherland Ave, just west of the entrance to 1045 Sutherland a good 1/2 block off Gordon.

The officer escorted me around the man and his walker."

UPDATE 11:20 a.m.

Kelowna RCMP are on scene of what appears to be the sudden death of an elderly man on Lequime Street and Gordon.

Castanet reporter Alanna Kelly reports from the scene that the death does not appear suspicious, however, the man appears to have collapsed on the sidewalk at the intersection.

No word on if the death is heat or smoke related.

ORIGINAL 10:51 a.m.

A heavy police presence is being reported near Sutherland and Gordon in Kelowna.

Witnesses on scene tell Castanet that officers are flagging people by the intersection.

Castanet News reporter Alanna Kelly is headed to the scene and will provide an update once there.

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