Despite record-breaking dry conditions, heat, no campfire ban issued

No campfire ban, yet

For the past two summers, B.C.'s Interior has avoided a campfire ban, with conditions never quite getting hot and dry enough to warrant one. But with a record-breaking dry spring this year and record-high temperatures forecast for this coming weekend, the region may see that streak broken sooner rather than later.

Earlier this month, Category 2 and 3 open burning was prohibited in the Kamloops Fire Centre, which includes all of the Thompson-Okanagan, while Category 2 and 3 fires will be barred across the rest of the province beginning Friday.

But at this time, campfires no larger than 0.5 metres in height and width are still allowed across all of B.C.

“When deciding to implement a campfire prohibition, we'll often consider the time of year, the current forecasted wildfire activity, the fire danger rating and current forecasted weather,” said Taylor MacDonald, fire information officer with the BC Wildfire Service.

“BC Wildfire Service has been reviewing additional considerations for how fire risk is determined as well, such as the amount and type of fuel that is available for combustion, the moisture content of organic material and the drought code. So these are trigger thresholds that are used to implement a campfire ban.”

Parts of the Okanagan, including Kelowna and Vernon, recorded the driest spring on record this year, followed by an unseasonably warm June.

“We are looking at a moderate to high danger rating in the Kamloops Fire Centre right now, so those are things that we're constantly assessing, as well as those other factors,” MacDonald said.

“We're constantly assessing the conditions and making well-informed decisions.”

Campfires are still allowed heading into this weekend, when temperatures are forecast to reach 40 C, but MacDonald says it's important for those in the backcountry to be extra cautious with fires.

“We're about to go into some really hot and dry conditions in the Kamloops Fire Centre, as well as some of the other areas of the province, so it's really important for people to be really careful with their campfire usage if they are planning to have one,” she said.

“Make sure you keep it small, safe and supervised and never burn in windy conditions. Make sure that your campfire is completely extinguished and cool to the touch before leaving an area for an extended period of time.”

Following record-breaking wildfire seasons in 2017 and 2018, B.C. has seen relatively mild wildfire seasons in the past two years.


Kelowna’s Gospel Mission launches operation heatwave

Helping homeless stay cool

Madison Erhardt

The extreme heat across the Southern Interior has caused many people to hide indoors, but some don't have that luxury.

Brittnay Applegh lives on the streets of Kelowna. She didn’t want to appear on camera, but told Castanet both her and her dog spend a lot of time by the lake trying to keep cool.

“The shade, lots of resting and staying in one spot. I can’t move around too much. I know I'm going to pretty much have to stay in the shade or be at the lake in the water with her,” she said.

Environment Canada says a dangerous long-duration heat wave will roll over B.C. beginning on Saturday and lasting until Tuesday.

The warning indicates that daytime highs will range from 35 to 40 degrees celsius combined with overnight lows of 20 to 22 degrees celsius.

Kelowna’s Gospel Mission says they are ready to help those on the streets beat the heat.

The Mission will utilize all three outreach vehicles during the day over the next week to ensure no one is in distress due to heatstroke, dehydration and sunburn.

"As the temperatures rise above 40 degrees this week, Kelowna’s Gospel Mission is releasing operation heatwave. Our staff and volunteers will search, find, and serve our most vulnerable community members with a bottle of cold water, a hat, sunscreen as well as a vehicle to cool down in. This is going beyond the three meals that we deliver daily to the vulnerable people of Kelowna,” said emergency shelter director Karl Heinitz.

As well as serving three meals everyday, Kelowna’s Gospel Mission has a total of 110 emergency shelter beds for men and women, showers, laundry and four transitional homes for women.

The Kelowna Gospel Mission's Thrift Store at 125 Roxby Road provides items to people in need as well as helps fund the shelter programs.

Two local churches, Kelowna’s Gospel Fellowship and Emmanuel Church, have already stepped up to support Operation Heatwave by donating $500 worth of water each.

To help support Operation Heatwave go to www.kelownagospelmission.ca.

Kelowna RCMP Const. Siggy Pietrzak faces trial in May 2022

Cop's assault trial in 2022

A Kelowna RCMP officer will face trial for assault in May 2022.

Const. Siggy Pietrzak was charged in April of this year, almost a year after he was filmed repeatedly punching a Kelowna man during an arrest in downtown Kelowna.

This week, a six-day trial for Pietrzak was scheduled, beginning May 24, 2022.

Pietrzak is currently suspended from the RCMP with pay, while the RCMP conducts a separate internal code of conduct investigation into his actions. The BC RCMP says that investigation remains active and ongoing.

The man on the receiving end of Const. Pietrzak's punches, Tyler Russell, filed a lawsuit against the officer in June 2020 after Castanet published cellphone video of the arrest.

The video shows two other officers struggling to restrain Russell, before Const. Pietrzak runs on the scene and starts delivering blows to the man's face.

In a filed response to Russell's suit, the federal government alleges Russell was in possession of drugs, and he didn't have permission to be driving the company truck he had been in.

“The Attorney General of Canada denies that the RCMP members used excessive force in apprehending the plaintiff, or otherwise, and say that any force they used against the plaintiff was reasonable and justified by law,” the response says.

Russell was taken to the hospital for treatment following his arrest, and no criminal charges were ever laid against him

In Pietrzak's own response to the suit, he called the punches he threw “distraction strikes,” which he says were required to help in the arrest.

Pietrzak is also facing a second assault charge, stemming from an alleged off-duty incident in West Kelowna that occurred between May 1, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2017. The file is designated as a domestic assault file, and court documents name a female victim.

The officer is set to make his first appearance in Kelowna court on that charge on July 15.


Interior Health taking imobile immunization clinic to Parkinson Recreation Centre

Mobile clinic in Kelowna

If you still haven’t had your first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, here’s another opportunity.

On June 30, you can get a drop-in COVID-19 vaccination at Kelowna’s Parkinson Recreation Centre, at 1700 Parkinson Way. No advance appointments are needed if you live or work in Kelowna. You can just walk-up, register and get your shot.

The mobile clinic will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. for those who were born in 2009 or earlier, and have not received their first dose yet.

This is only for first doses. For second doses, you need to book an appointment through the provincial registration system.

The closure of four blocks of Bernard Avenue to vehicle traffic begins Monday

Bernard closes on Monday

The transformation of a four block section of Bernard Avenue from a vehicular route to a pedestrian corridor will begin Monday.

The city will shut down the main downtown street from The Sails to St. Paul Street at 6 a.m. Monday to begin the conversion. Mill Street and the section of Abbott Street from Bernard to Lawrence avenues will also be closed to traffic.

Over a three day period, the streets will be transformed to include everything from patio dining for restaurants, pubs and coffee shops and entertainment hubs.

Once the street opens for pedestrians on Canada Day, Downtown Kelowna Association executive director Mark Burley believes visitors will be impressed with the level of animation, especially along the 400 and 500 blocks, which did not attract a lot of people a year ago.

"What they have done is addressed that situation in the 400 and 500 blocks, or as they are now called, The Neighbourhood Plaza and Community Square with lots of activation, parklets, some entertainment throughout the 10 weeks of the program," said Burley.

"They have also moved the walkway from the north side to the south side so it's closer to the side of Bernard where the businesses are active in the 400 block. It also provides a little more shade on that side of the street."

Burley believes the level, and quality of animation along the upper two blocks will pull people from the 200 and 300 blocks.

"We have lots going on to draw traffic from the 200 and 300 blocks where the bulk of the restaurants are. But, we already have natural go to places in restaurants with the Bohemian and Molly's in the 500 block.

"Hopefully, with all this animation and family stuff, the iArt gallery as well entertainment, buskers will pull the traffic up which we weren't able to do last year."

The closure was introduced last year as a way to help downtown businesses hurt by the pandemic.

As the province continues to reopen and restrictions around travel and gatherings are loosened, it's believed Kelowna will be a very popular tourist destination this summer.

Burley says, for the most part, people understand distancing and understand how we should be living life.

He says they will set up in a such a way as to provide the opportunity and room for people to move around safely in a COVID environment.

Teams will also be out on the streets sanitizing and cleaning on a regular basis.

With traffic removed from four blocks of Bernard, temporary accessible parking stalls and five-minute pick-up zones will be put in place on cross streets near Bernard.

Interior Health confirmed a COVID-19 exposure at Davidson Road Elementary

COVID exposure at school

Interior Health confirmed a COVID-19 exposure at Davidson Road Elementary, they announced Thursday.

The impacted staff or students are self-isolating at home with support from local public health teams. Interior Health follows up with anyone potentially exposed to a confirmed case directly through contact tracing.

“The safety and well-being of students, families, and staff remains our highest priority. Central Okanagan Public Schools will continue to implement the strict health and safety protocols and procedures that are in place so students and staff can continue to attend school as safely as possible,” School District 23 said in a news release.

Kelowna's payroll in 2020 increases by less than 2.5 per cent over 2019

Kelowna payroll hits $80M

The City of Kelowna spent just slightly more than $80 million in straight wages in 2020, less than 2.5 per cent more than the previous year.

The figure, which includes remuneration paid to city council, topped out at $80,007,765, the first time wages pay reached that level.

It was just three years ago when wages topped $70 million for the first time.

In 2019, the city spent $78.3 million in straight salary.

Including expenses and benefits, Kelowna paid its employees $92.4 million in 2020, $1.9 million more than the previous year.

While the increase in wages was less than in previous years, the number of employees earning in the high five-figures jumped dramatically.

Four hundred and eighty-two city employees earned more than the $75,000 per year reporting threshold compared with 447 the previous year.

Of those, 211 are CUPE employees, 147 on the management side and 124 are firefighters.

Of those, 167 employees, including 89 firefighters, took home salaries in the six figure range.

The biggest wage earner was city manager Doug Gilchrist, who pocketed $289,128. Outgoing deputy city manager Joe Creron earned $202,891 while airport manager Sam Samaddar took home $187,290.

The rest of the top earners include:

  • Jim Gabriel, director of active living and culture - $186,678
  • Genelle Davidson, finance director - $182,280
  • Stu Leatherdale, director of corporate and protective services - $181,900
  • Carla Weaden, director of corporate strategic services - $179,538
  • Alan Newcombe, infrastructure director - $179,279
  • Derek Edstrom, director of partnerships and investments - $173,181
  • Travis Whiting, fire chief - $166,511

City councillors were paid a collective remuneration of $413,396, $9,000 more than the previous year, however, with cancellation of in-person municipal conferences such as FCM and UBCM, expenses billed to the city came in at just $12,797, nearly $43,000 less than in 2019.

The biggest drop in spending came from the supply and expenses side of the ledger.

In 2019, the city spent just over $402 million for supplies and services, including remunerations to federal and provincial coffers, other taxing authorities and materials for city projects.

Those dropped to $318 million last year.

Public financial accounting is required each year from all municipal and regional district governments.

Olympic gold medalist Kelsy Serwa gets COVID-19 vaccine

Serwa gets fully vaccinated

Interior Health took to social media this week about Kelowna's own Kelsey Serwa, and why she is getting vaccinated.

The Olympic gold and silver medalist said is about to get her second dose.

“The reason why I want to get vaccinated is because I want to protect my family as well as the community that I live in. I’m also really looking forward to living in a world where nasal swabs and face masks are a thing of the past and we can all get together again. Bring on the birthday parties, the weddings, all of the above," she said.

People born in 2009 or earlier are eligible to receive their vaccine.

“Our vaccine roll-out is going very well. The notifications to book the second dose are going out at eight weeks following the first dose and we are seeing lots of people booking appointments at all our local clinics," said Dr. Sue Pollock, Interior Health interim chief medical health officer.

"We’ve launched our mobile vaccination clinics to target both our rural and remote communities and our urban centres to increase the uptake in first doses. It’s easier than ever to drop-in to your nearest clinic to get your first dose."

To book your vaccine, click here.

Kelowna retailer reacts to proposed flavoured vape ban

Vape stores push back

A proposed federal ban on all flavoured e-cigarette and vape products is sparking criticism from the industry in Kelowna.

Health Canada proposed last week a ban on the distribution of all flavoured vape products except tobacco, mint and menthol.

That is news has been difficult for vape store owners like Austin Robertson and his brother Myles, who own 11 vape shops across Canada, including one in Kelowna. Austin says this new law would mean those who were trying to quit smoking by using an e-cigarettes will just go back to tobacco use.

“Adult vapers are just going to be pushed back to smoking traditional tobacco, and that's what the vape industry has always been about, is getting adults off of combustible tobacco. If you remove the flavours, you push vapers back to smoking and that's what this business was set out to do is help people find a healthier alternative to smoking,” said Austin.

With over 1,400 vape shops across Canada, the industry says the new law could be a death blow.

“If they remove flavours, we basically shut down, and every retailer across Canada would shut down. We ran our data on all of our shops, and basically 98 per cent of our sales are flavoured e-liquid to adults. You remove the flavours, then you remove the option for people to make healthy decision like this,” said Austin

Myles Robertson is equally frustrated with the potential of his business and many others shutting down. He says people will still find a way to get these flavoured products without supporting their local vape shops.

“These ingredients that it takes to make flavoured e-juices can be bought from any grocery store, online, and effectively it will put the black market back in business as well, and those people will be buying and selling with zero regulations on who they can buy and sell to, meaning kids will get their hands on it a lot easier,” said Myles.

Castanet recently ran an online poll to find out if people were in favour of the flavour ban. Just under 9,500 people responded, with 50 per cent of the votes saying they agreed with the ban, 43 per cent said they were against it, and six per cent say they are unsure how they feel.

The Canadian Cancer Society welcomed Ottawa’s proposed flavour restrictions as a step in the right direction. But the group called for the draft regulations to be amended during the 75-day consultation period, which launched last week, to add mint and menthol to the list of banned flavours, citing their appeal to youth.

Also last week, the federal government finalized regulations that lower the maximum nicotine concentration for vaping products sold in Canada to 20 mg/ml from 66 mg/ml.

The nicotine cap will take effect for e-cigarette manufacturers on July 8, and retailers will have to pull products that exceed the limit after July 23.

A Statistics Canada report released in March suggests that about one in seven young Canadians reported vaping in the previous month in 2019.

“Vaping is putting a new generation of Canadians at risk of nicotine addiction,” Health Minister Patty Hadju said in a statement. “These new measures build on our efforts to stop young Canadians from vaping.”

with files from the Canadian Press

Time running out to register for Women’s Mental Health Run

Running for mental health

There is still time to register for the ninth annual Shoppers Drug Mart Run for Women.

The deadline to sign up for this event is midnight Friday, June 25 – with proceeds of registration and fundraising going to women’s mental health programs at CMHA Kelowna.

As a virtual event, runners and walkers across the Okanagan and in 18 communities across Canada can choose their own 5K or 10K, run or walk, route between July 4 and 11 and submit their race time via the Run for Women app.

The Run will culminate in a live-streamed Run for Women Day event on Sunday, July 11, and all participants are invited to join the celebration.

Registration to participate in the run is $50.

Run for Women is Canada’s first and only women’s and girls’ running series, benefitting women’s mental health initiatives and local charities across the country.

In Kelowna, every dollar raised by local runners supports mothers, daughters, and friends in our community through the mental health programs and services offered at CMHA Kelowna.

To sign up visit RunForWomen.ca.

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