Stay off the river

It's not just the lakes that boaters should stay off of at the moment.

Outdoor enthusiasts are being urged to curtail their activities even more due to the danger on the Shuswap River because of high and fast-running water.

Two Vernon Search and Rescue teams and the helicopter winch team were called out Tuesday after a father and son kayakers ran into trouble on the river, north of Grindrod.

Both kayakers were swamped, but the son made it safely to shore and called 911 from a nearby home.

“Two boats were en route and the helicopter winch team but we received word the father had made it safely to shore before we arrived,” said Leigh Pearson, Vernon Search and Rescue manager.

However Pearson had a further message for those considering a trip down the Shuswap.

“Right now, nobody should be on that river. It is going like you wouldn't believe. It is unforgiving. It is relentless. It's not a safe place to be.”

On Sunday, the BC River Forecast Centre issued a high streamflow advisory for the Shuswap River, Eagle River, Seymour River and surrounding tributaries.  

Vernon Search and Rescue volunteers have been inundated with callouts since last Saturday, attending eight incidents including issuing evacuation order and alert notices to residents in North Westside and Lumby.


Canada Day in the park

Plans have expanded for the Canada Day experience in Polson Park.

“Last year's event was a huge success. We expect it to be even bigger this year,” said David Frost, president of the North Okanagan Canada Day Society.

Frost said approximately 10,000 people attended the events in the park throughout the day last year.

Many of the same events will be back, he said, including an extreme motocross display by Reagan Sieg that wowed the crowd in 2016.

Frost told city council the committee was also hoping to hold the first ever skateboard competition, to appeal to young people, as well as horsedrawn carriage rides and possibly short ATV rides in part of the park.

While a fireworks display sponsored by Craftsman Collision will be held, organizers are keeping quiet about where that will happen, hoping people will enter a contest to guess the location.

Fire held as snow falls

UPDATE: 4:30 p.m.

Rain, wet snow and a cooler temperature have helped control a wildfire just over two kilometres away from Lumby.

The BC Wildfire Service reports the Cooper Creek wildfire is "being held." 

"There is no smoke that can be seen from the village," said Lumby Fire Chief Tony Clayton. "Yesterday you could see the smoke and the flareups."

Clayton said he had heard from the forests ministry there had been rain and wet snow at the site of the fire.

UPDATE: 1:05 p.m.

An evacuation alert affecting 30 residences along Cooper Road and Hurt Road in response to a wildfire in the Cooper Creek area has been cancelled, according to the North Okanagan Regional District.

The BC Wildfire Service reports the wildfire in 4.1 hectares in size.

Original Story: 8 a.m.

More firefighters from the BC Wildfire Service were being sent Wednesday to the Cooper Creek wildfire burning two kilometres northwest of Lumby. 

Some were already on the scene, said Max Birkner, fire information officer.

Smoke had died down, but the wildfire continued to burn and an evacuation alert for 30 residences in the area remained in effect, said the village's fire chief.

“Visible smoke has died down but we are still getting some winds,” said Fire Chief Tony Clayton.

An evacuation alert was issued last night for homes along Cooper and Hurt roads.

“Structural protection specialists are coming out again and will be evaluating people's property,” Clayton said.

The fire chief said the blaze was not a threat to the village at this time.

The wildfire erupted early Tuesday evening and could be seen by villagers – first as smoke and then flame as it sparked trees in the hills.

The B.C. Wildfire Service responded to the fire Tuesday night with a helicopter and airtankers. Retardant was being laid down on the north and east flanks.

"More elaborate mapping of the fire has been done and it is still estimated to be four hectares in size," Birkner reported.

"This is a developing situation," Birkner said, referring to the windy conditions overnight. "If aircraft are needed we will put them on." 

100 homes threatened

Like communities up and down the Valley, the Okanagan Indian Band is keeping a close eye on the lake and the weather.

Tuesday's wind storm flooded several homes in the Head of the Lake area and more than 100 others are threatened by the rising waters.

The area was one of the worst hit by yesterday's storm.

A handful of people have been evacuated due to the rising water.

OKIB Chief Byron Louis said plans are in place to evacuate other people if necessary, adding so far there are 115 homes at risk by the flood waters.

“We had approximately 200,000 sandbags being filled,” said Louis on Wednesday. “We're looking at 750 residents along Okanagan Lake on reserve lands that could be affected.”

Louis is also keeping an eye on what is happening in the South Okanagan.

He said the amount of water let out of Okanagan Lake in the South Okanagan impacts the North Okanagan.

“It's affected by the Similkameen River that can act like a dam on the lower Okanagan and it can start backing water up into Osoyoos Lake and if that happens it's going to have a chain reaction all the way up the Valley. The river in Washington State can only hold so much water, so we could be in this all through June,” said Louis.

Other concerns the band has are septic fields and holding tanks. Many homes in the area are on septic and Louis has concerns about the flood waters washing all that material into the lake.

A public information meeting will be held at at Head of the Lake Hall, 118 Head of the Lake Rd. Thursday, May 25 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Docks lost, trees down

UPDATE: 2:30 p.m.

The Tronson Road boat launch has been temporarily closed due to debris buildup following yesterday's wind storm.

City crews are removing debris today and expect the boat launch to be open by 6 p.m. tonight. 

Boating on Okanagan and Kalamalka Lakes is strongly discouraged while while they remain at flood levels.

Docks were lost and tree branches fell in the Landing and further afield along Okanagan Lake Tuesday night.

On Wednesday morning, City of Vernon workers at Kin Beach cut damaged tree branches and cleaned up others that had fallen during the storm, as high winds continued to batter the almost invisible line of beach.

While the Vernon Yacht Club's moorings took a battering during the windstorm, they held up and no damage was reported except a broken water line, according to a member of the club.

Other members showed up to survey the scene and check their boats.

A number of private docks were lost along Okanagan Landing Road.

Some men were seen struggling in the waves to secure docks while other people were at sand piles, bagging sand to fill breached positions.

Further along, near Harbour Heights Road, Ryan Danchuk surveyed the damage to his new build right on the lake.

“We had built a three-foot sandbag wall all along the perimeter of the property and then about 6 p.m. the weather changed and the waves came up,” said Danchuck. “They just totally destroyed the sandbag wall in about 15 minutes.”

Danchuk, his family and friends scrambled to put plywood sheets and sandbags against the glass doors of his unfinished house to keep the water out.

“I've lived on the lake my whole life and I've never seen anything like this....We're just going to keep on keeping on.”

Emergency OKIB meeting

The Okanagan Indian Band Emergency Operations Centre is hosting an information meeting for all residents who have been impacted by the flooding on OKIB lands.

The OKIB EOC is responsible for assisting all residents on OKIB lands, band members and non-members, who are affected by the recent flooding. 

A town hall meeting has been organized to provide information to flood-affected residents on the role of the OKIB EOC, identifying available resources and outlining the process for recovery.

The meeting is open to all residents and will be held at Head of the Lake Hall, 118 Head of the Lake Rd. Thursday May 25 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“We would like to see all residents, living on OKIB lands, come out and learn about what emergency resources are available and what the next steps are,” said Chief Byron Louis, “Our staff have been working around the clock managing the flood response efforts for everyone who lives in our community. With a rough estimate of 750 residences on the shoreline, this has been a massive endeavour.”

Speakers on the agenda include representatives from Environment Canada, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Emergency Support Services, Red Cross, First Nations Health Authority, and BC Disaster Financial Assistance.

'The waves were insane'

The winds have died down, and now the reports of damage are coming in.

A powerful storm churned up Okanagan Lake, which was already at flood levels in some areas, causing damage and flooding to many lakefront home owners.

David Wright lives on Willow Shore Road in the Head of the Lake area north of Vernon, and he said despite their best efforts, waves crashed over barriers and flooded several homes.

“We lost the battle in the storm, all our houses are under water now. Many people got evacuated last night. The waves were just too much to handle, even though we had been working hard for weeks (with) thousands of sand bags laid down. The whole community had banded together and worked endless days to try and protect our homes,” said Wright Wednesday morning.

Wright said some people who lived on higher ground rode the storm out, while others evacuated their homes.

“It was so fast and furious with the waves,” he said. “The waves were insane, don't think I have seen them that high in years, if ever.”

Residents in the Okanagan Landing area also took a beating from the wind and waves with reports of destroyed docks and other damage coming in.

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