Family that lost second home in wildfire targeted by thieves

Thieves target fire family

A family that lost their home for the second time in the McDougall Creek wildfire has now been targeted by thieves.

Patrick Lacey contacted Castanet after someone stole the wood stove out of his family’s camper that was parked on blocks outside their fire-ravaged property on Westside Road.

He was driving by the property on Sunday morning when he noticed the damage.

“I drove by and I could see the chimney stack was gone, and then I look and it’s off its jacks sitting on pallets that luckily were there, otherwise it would be tipped over on the road,” said an emotional Lacey, who notes the thieves tore out part of a wall to get at the stove.

It’s the latest blow for the Laceys. They are starting from scratch for the second time after their first house on Westside Road in Traders Cove was completely gutted by fire back in May of 2019.

They had just finished rebuilding when the McDougall Creek fire struck. They had no insurance, and launched a Go Fund Me to help rebuild their lives.

"Unfortunately because I'm an owner-builder, I'm not certified as a contractor. We couldn't get anything (insurance) extended beyond three months. And we looked everywhere. So yeah, we are without insurance, no content insurance, nothing."

"It seems surreal that it's actually happening again, because we fireproofed our property, we cleared everything. We should have just been working on the house trying to finish to get it insured, what a waste of time," Lacey said in an early September interview.

The camper is one of the few items the family has left after the fire, and it plays an integral role in their lives.

“We are devastated to lose a huge part of what we hoped would make for a semi-normal winter for our kids. They only play a couple of sports but both are super passionate about snowboarding and a huge part of that is family lunches cooked on the wood stove.”

Lacey said the the wood stove's theft could be the final straw.

“I felt resilient before but this has just finished my resolve and my faith in humanity is shattered. Who keeps hitting someone who is down?”

Resort rebuild could take much longer than other homes lost to fire

Murky future for resort

The regional district director for the North Westside says it’s going to be extremely difficult for the first six months as people try to recover from the McDougall Creek wildfire, especially for those who had property at Lake Okanagan Resort.

The situation for them is much murkier because of the complicated structure of the community.

Some units are individually-owned, others are within as many as five stratas, some are timeshares and the entire resort is owned by Chinese investors, who are in charge of the utilities and infrastructure.

“Sometimes your insurance won’t just pay you out. Sometimes you have to rebuild first before you can actually get out of the site,” says Wayne Carson, Central Okanagan West director on the Regional District of Central Okanagan board.

“I don’t know how their insurance is going to go. And it’s the same thing for the strata buildings. Hopefully the strata buildings had insurance and then it’s going to depend on each and every one of the residents there as to whether or not they had insurance to cover the structure itself and their contents."

“So, it’s going to be extremely interesting and difficult for the first six months,” he adds, saying the first six months after losing a home to a wildfire is also the most difficult time for many people.

Lake Okanagan Resort was bought out by Chinese investors in 2014. Despite the new ownership it still hasn’t seen many long-needed upgrades and repairs. It was embroiled in a couple of lawsuits in recent years and was fined nearly $50,000 in 2022 for sewage system violations.

Carson says some people who lost homes in the 2021 White Rock Lake wildfire are just now getting close to moving into their new homes, while others are only partway through the rebuilding process. He says it could take much longer for property owners at the resort.

“You’re going to be looking for a little bit more involved construction, a lot more construction and just getting some plans in place, and that."

“They lost that condo building on the south side. That had a lot of people living there. I’m thinking that the residential structures may come back faster than the hotel itself, but that’s really going to depend on what kind of insurance they had at the hotel,” Carson points out.

As for others in the area who are starting the recovering process, like those in Traders Cove, he expects the RDCO will help expedite the building permit approval process like they did for those affected by the White Rock Lake fire.

Carson is also going to push to have FireSmart principles built into regional district development policy.

“I’ve sat back and listened to the heartbreaking stories of many of the residents out here and just when I thought we were getting back on our feet, I’m starting at square one again with the south end of my district.”

He’s worried if something isn’t done to better protect homes, they might not be able to rebuild next time. “I do not want to see these homes undefended anymore. We need to stop the home ignitions that are happening on these fires or we’re not going to be getting any insurance.”

UBCO professor explains emotional response to wildfire and what comes next

Overcoming wildfire trauma

It's been 20 years since the Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire scorched the east side of Okanagan Lake.

Now history feels like it is repeating itself after the McDougall Creek wildfire burned 13,940 hectares, forced 54,000 people onto an evacuation alert and damaged or destroyed 189 properties — forever changing the landscape and the psyche of the people who live here.

Mary Ann Murphy, associate professor at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, uses a unique word to sum up the experience of living through a wildfire and then seeing what is left behind.

"Solastalgia, it's like nostalgia, it was created by Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht. It's really a recognition that the world around us has changed dramatically and also that our love for the land catalyzes us to do something about it. I would say it's stress caused by environmental change," Murphy said.

As people begin the process of rebuilding and returning to burned areas, Murphy says it's not surprising that they are having emotional responses.

Murphy studied the impacts of the Okanagan Mountain Fire and says she is already seeing many of the same things happening again.

"One of the things that's really interesting and very visible the last few weeks is just overwhelming support of the entire community, emergency responders, people far afield, trying to come and help us."

Murphy says wildfires are very visible, as is the devastation they bring.

"If you've lost your home, if you've been devastated, everyone can see it, you're literally public, you're on everybody's cameras, you're all over the news. But what's unique about this incredible outpouring of support is this incredible realization that you're not alone."

It may be hard for people who don't deal with wildfires every summer to understand why most people choose to stay and rebuild after their homes have been destroyed, but Murphy says she believes its a sense of community that keeps people in the Okanagan.

"You have an incredible set of neighbours and a community that will help you. It becomes apparent that your life can change in an instant, you really think about how you've been lucky. They said it was a real friendship builder, they even said something like you're one of them now, almost like this special collective or society."

Murphy believes the same thing is happening now.

"When you've got a total stranger trying to give you a place to say they're offering help, food, whatever it is, they say you will end up with stronger neighbourhoods than you ever had before."

All Central Okanagan evacuation alerts lifted, state of emergency ends

All evacuation alerts lifted

UPDATE: 4:15 p.m.

Central Okanagan Emergency Operations has announced it is rescinding the remaining property on evacuation order for the McDougall Creek wildfire.

The State of Local Emergency for the City of West Kelowna originally initiated on August 16th has also ended.

ORIGINAL: 11:30 a.m.

As rain has fallen across the region for several days, all evacuation alerts in the Central Okanagan have now been rescinded and the local State of Emergency is over.

The Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre made the announcement Thursday morning, following one of the most destructive fire seasons in the region. The province-wide state of emergency for wildfires expired back on Sept. 14.

While most of Peachland was placed on evacuation alert earlier this month due to the Glen Lake wildfire, the evacuation orders for the eight properties near the fire were downgraded to alerts on Monday and the bulk of the alerts were rescinded. Now, the few remaining alerts have also been rescinded.

The BC Wildfire Service declared the fire “held” on Monday, meaning it's not likely to spread beyond predetermined boundaries.

But despite this development, fire crews continue to work on the fire, mopping up hot spots, completing containment lines and assessing and falling danger trees.

The fire quickly grew to 1,116 hectares in size west of Peachland after it was first sparked Sept. 16. While the eight properties were evacuated, no structures are believed to have been impacted.

How will the McDougall Creek fire impact West Kelowna's drinking water?

Rose Valley before and after

The view from the McDougall Rim trail above West Kelowna's Rose Valley looks very different post-wildfire.

Aside from the visual shock left by looking at the charred landscape, there are also concerns about what the impact on drinking water could be after heavy rain or next spring's snow melt.

UBC Okanagan assistant professor of Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences Mathieu Bourbonnais says the impacts could be significant.

"The image shows a lot of high severity fire in those areas. If we're talking about hydrology, and we're talking about the Rose Valley watershed, some of those are going to be hydrological impacts," Bourbonnais said in an interview with Castanet.

Hydrology is the study of the distribution and movement of water, on and below the Earth's surface, as well as the impact of human activity on water availability. Bourbonnais believes there will be both long-term and short-term impacts because of the wildfire.

In the short-term, West Kelowna could see more sediment in the reservoir's water.

"In high severity fire areas, especially in steep terrain, oftentimes, it'll actually burn through the organic matter on the forest floor."

Bourbonnais says that will mean the soil won't retain water and will run off, "so future storms, for example, can result in a lot of runoff, and landslides or increased sedimentation into the reservoir."

The City of West Kelowna is working to complete the new Rose Valley water treatment plant by the end of the year. As it stands now, drinking water coming from the reservoir is not treated beyond chlorination, meaning residents are already very familiar with water advisories.

The city said last week it is just starting to study the impact the fire had on the watershed.

Bourbonnais says a "really important question" remains what kind of demand the new landscape will put on the new treatment plant.

"So if we get big sedimentation loads into the reservoir that could be an issue. Also, those forests do a really good job of cooling the water that comes down into the reservoirs."

"Those soils and that vegetation that would generally capture some of that water are gone. So rather than that water being stored up in organic matter in the watershed, it's all going to come down, so you can get way more water than you would expect. Which is a challenge, because water treatment plants generally are set up to handle a certain amount of water."

Bourbonnais says more water means more sediment.

The lack of trees and soil could also lead to more landslides, "any areas where we've lost a lot of the vegetation, there's still a fair amount of organics up there or soils, those are going to be probably at a higher risk of sliding, I'd say in the spring."

Looking longer term, Bourbonnais said it is not clear forests will regrow in the watershed due to the high severity of the burn and climate change.

If there is a bright spot, Bourbonnais says the wildfire will also help regenerate growth of grasslands that serve as protection against major wildfires.

Bourbonnais believes we have more trees in the Okanagan Valley bottom than we would have had historically.

"In the future, when we talk about what's going to come back, it might not be the same forest, it might be more grasslands, and woody savannas with shrubs, pine or some other sort of species tree species that come back, but it might be far more open."

If that happens Bourbonnais believes the frequency and intensity of future fires could decrease.

Bonaparte River erosion, flooding shows impact wildfire can have on waterways, researchers say

Fires linked to rivers, floods

Increased erosion and flooding in the Cache Creek area has been linked directly to the massive Elephant Hill wildfire in 2017, and it's giving researchers a better idea of what to expect as more of B.C. is scorched each year.

Alessandro Ielpi, an assistant professor in geomorphology at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, said burned vegetation has left the Bonaparte River vulnerable to increased erosion.

“By removing vegetation along the east hill slopes, water that has rained on or that has accumulated in snow and then melted, has had the capability to erode way more soil, and to deliver way more sediment [compared] to normal to the river,” Ielpi said.

“In response to that, the river has changed its shape and it has changed its typical pace of bank erosion — so it has widened and it started to erode banks faster.”

Ielpi said the river has widened up to 130 per cent in some areas and the pace of erosion has increased by 230 per cent.

The lack of vegetation also causes more damage from river runoff, contributing to flooding problems along the river.

“Without vegetation, you have more water available for runoff, and that water is also transferred more quickly through the channel,” said Ielpi.

“That runoff is causing more direct delivery of water from slopes. So in a sense, it is facilitating flooding.”

Ielpi said the second major impact is the increased sedimentation due to more erosion, clogging the river with more debris for the local fish life.

“When you increase the amount of sediment, it is suspended in the water — fish struggle to function and live properly because the excessive sediment clogs their gills,” Ielpi said.

Gravel beds in the river have also suffered increased erosion, according to Ielpi, which reduces areas for fish spawning beds.

These effects to the local geography are likely to be reduced when vegetation eventually grows back, but it’s unsure when this will happen.

“These changes will probably revert and will be recalibrated, but we have no idea if it's going to be in 10 years, if it's going to be in 20 or 50 years,” said Ielpi.

Ielpi hopes his research will help communities predict hazards years after a wildfire runs its course.

“It's something that can inform local communities about what may be coming down the pipe for five years after wildfires,” Ielpi said.

“They may expect increasing erosion, and they may expect that increasing erosion to affect some of the infrastructure, some of the buildings in the community.”

Ielpi said his study has developed a model that predicts river behaviour based on metrics observed through satellite imagery.

West Kelowna councillor seeks public inquiry into wildfire emergency response

Push for a public inquiry

West Kelowna Coun. Rick de Jong wants the regional district to authorize a full, independent review of the handling of the McDougall Creek wildfire.

The request seeking a full public inquiry was presented in the form of a notice of motion at the end of Tuesday's West Kelowna council meeting.

The motion will be brought forward for full discussion and vote at the next council meeting Oct. 10

"Be it resolved that council direct the mayor to write the Regional District of Central Okanagan requesting an independent public hearing process regarding the McDougall Creek wildfire with a focus on Emergency Support Services and the effectiveness of the Regional District of Central Okanagan emergency plan," the notice of motion concluded.

De Jong acknowledged the hard work of all emergency personnel and volunteers that fought the fire and worked at looking after the needs of West Kelowna residents.

However, he said there were problems within the ESS, and he believes residents and volunteers need a public forum to share those stories.

"Someone would be hard pressed to say the ESS functioned well in West Kelowna because it was just the opposite," de Jong told Castanet News after putting forward his notice of motion.

"We need to figure out why it didn't function and what we can do to improve it in the future. I certainly have a lot or questions. I have spoken to a lot of people who have stories to share as part of the healing process."

He recalled speaking to a 78-year-old woman recovering from hip surgery who slept in her car for three days waiting to get registered.

"We need to do better than that."

de Jong also wants the inquiry to look into the workings of the emergency management plan.

The plan, developed through consultation with all communities within the regional district was last updated in 2020.

"This is the first real emergency at a regional level since that document was last revised.

"How did it work? Did it function well and does it need to be changed?

"I'd like to know how it functioned."

He says he would push for a public inquiry conducted by a third party which gives the public an opportunity to tell their stories, the positive and the negative.

The information, says de Jong, would come back in the form of a public report that the RDCO would act upon to make changes to do better the next time.

Fire ban lifted for designated spots throughout Penticton

Campfire ban lifting soon

The Penticton Fire Department has announced that the campfire ban issued for the city this summer will be lifted on Thursday.

Campfires can return starting at 12 p.m. on Thursday.

The only locations where campfires are allowed in Penticton are Three Mile Beach, Okanagan Lake and Skaha Lake in the designated fire pits. Portable propane fireplaces are permitted in all parks.

"Anyone found in violation of the remaining open fire ban may be fined. Anyone who causes a wildfire through arson or recklessness may also be fined up to $1 million, spend up to three years in prison and be held accountable for associated firefighting costs," the city said in the news release.

"The City of Penticton thanks the public in advance for its co-operation in complying with the remaining open fire ban, such as the burning of agricultural clippings, which need permits."

BC Wildfire Service has also lifted that ban issued in the Kamloops Fire Centre starting at noon on Thursday.

More information on outdoor burning in Penticton can be found online here.

August Motors to host car show in support of first responders

Revving engines for heroes

August Motorcars will be hosting a car show in support of local first responders this weekend.

'Revving Engines For Our Heroes' will take place Oct. 1. from 12 p.m. until 3 p.m. at August Luxury Motorcars dealership on 3510 Spectrum Ct.

All donations from the car show will be going to Kelowna Fire Dept, West Kelowna Fire Dept, Wilson’s Landing Fire Department, and Lake Country Fire Department.

"These funds will be used to directly assist our heroes and their families that have been impacted by these devastating wildfires," said owner owner Matt August.

General admission is a minimum $10 donation for individuals or $30 for families of four.

"The dealership was almost evacuated. We had probably six or seven staff evacuated, I was evacuated. We wanted to give an opportunity for the public to come and say thank you," August said.

The Kelowna Fire Department will have their ladder truck on display and RCMP will also be in attendance.

"We are trying to bring the community all together where people get to check out cool cars, raise some money and say thank you," August added.

August says the initiative will feature luxury vehicles in the showroom, food trucks and some surprises.

Tickets can be purchased in advance online or at the door. If you have a vehicle (with four wheels) you would like to show off, vehicle registration is $100 and will go towards the cause.

For more info, click here.

Campfire ban lifting in Kamloops Fire Centre

Campfire ban to lift

The campfire ban will soon be lifted throughout the Kamloops Fire Centre.

The BC Wildfire Service says the ban has been lifted due to lower temperatures, higher relative humilities, and good recoveries overnight by crews.

The ban will lift at noon on Thursday.

Category two and three open fires remain prohibited until Oct. 13, 2023, or until the orders are rescinded. In addition to open fires being prohibited, the following activities and equipment are also restricted:

  • Fireworks
  • Sky Lanterns
  • Binary Exploding Targets;
  • Air Curtain Burners; and
  • Burn Barrels or Burn Cages of any size or description, except when used for a Category 1 campfire as defined by the Wildfire Regulation.

You can view a map of the affected area here.

To learn more about the different categories of open burning, visit the open burning webpage.

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