Dealing with the dramatic impact of wildfire evacuation

Fleeing flames of a wildfire

The 2023 wildfire season will be a vivid memory for many in the Southern Interior.

That includes the Sheriff and Constant Companion Carmen, who live on the fringe of what the Sheriff calls the Glenmore Highlands North wildfire in Kelowna. For us, it was filled with forest fire drama on our doorstep mixed with what can only be described as a comedy of errors.

The drama began on a Thursday evening (Aug. 17) when gusting winds sent burning embers from the McDougall Creek wildfire in West Kelowna across Okanagan Lake into a single coniferous tree on the steep Glenmore Highlands slope above Clifton Road.

That's all it took. A major interface fire raced up the slope, across the top of the Glenmore Highlands into upscale Wilden, and then north past McKinley Landing into Lake Country.

The Sheriff had already loaded and packed the truck camper for the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival so we added a few more clothes and food, and sat on lawn chairs watching the long line of flames along the ridge top directly across Glenmore Road.

Everything was quiet on a smokey Friday until 2 p.m. when two RCMP members at the end of the driveway warned we were now in an evacuation order zone. The Sheriff remarked that was strange since short, dead-end Galiano Road wasn't on an evacuation order list or marked as under an order on the master map.

"It's being updated as we speak," was the response. It never was. Evacuation alert only.

We decided to wait awhile since our escape route on either Glenmore Road or Scenic Road was 30 seconds away. After developing an evacuation plan for the horses, we stayed to feed them and to extinguish any burning embers landing on our parched grass (now being irrigated). A sprinkler went up on the house roof. Dead embers kept floating down.

At 5 p.m., a tall tree on Glenmore Road at John Hindle Drive candled in spectacular fashion (as three homes burned and flames crossed into the Glenmore landfill). We watched as firefighters battled flames creeping south across the north-south Begbie Road Ridge parallel to Glenmore Road. Two hose lines kept flames from the first Wilden houses partway up the Begbie Road hill, while bush trucks and firetrucks sprayed flames on the hillside further north.

Ten firetrucks assembled at the Begbie-Glenmore intersection for a half-hour, then departed, smoke still billowing from 20 hotspots which glowed as nightfall arrived. CCC phoned 911 but it wasn't clear to her if any structures were threatened and she was told firetrucks were needed elsewhere.

Saturday was smoky but quiet - Glenmore Road and John Hindle Drive were open - so the Sheriff decided it was safe to attend the roots and blues festival that had already held a Friday night concert. Two frozen food containers that needed thawing would slide off the counter so they went onto the camper bed. The Sheriff left at 9 a.m., arrived in Salmon Arm at 10:30 a.m. and learned the festival had been cancelled while he was on the road. Good laugh.

Returning to Kelowna, John Hindle was closed and there was now an RCMP check stop at Glenmore-Scenic. The Sheriff pointed in vain to his white three-rail fence 300 metres away. "Park your camper on that gravel strip and I will drive you home," said RCMP. More laughter.

In an inquiry to the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre, "RCMP say there are fire hoses across Glenmore Road." There were no firehoses. "Sorry," was the response Another neighbour phoned the EOC and got: "RCMP say there are fire hoses across the road and utility poles are down." Neither was true.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, the Sheriff walked down to the checkstop to hear: "You are good to go." Arriving home and partly unpacking the camper, the Sheriff found thawed food containers and a large stain on the camper bedding through to the mattress topper. At 10 p.m., the Sheriff was washing multiple layers of bedding in cold water in the bathtub. You had to laugh.

On Sunday morning, a phone call announced that hay was baled, was sitting on the Mission field and was waiting for pickup. Two loads were allowed past the checkpoint (still evac alert only) and CCC picked up her son for an overnighter. On Sunday, a wave and a smile as she drove him home. But return to Galiano? "There was so much traffic yesterday (from two homes, a vet clinic and ag biz on Galiano?) that Glenmore Road is closed," she was told. So CCC parked on Scenic, hiked through orchards and forest back to Galiano, and arrived laughing about her misadventure.

Remember that smoke on the side of the Begbie Road Ridge? On Sunday afternoon, a large farm barn at the bottom of the ridge caught fire and flames raced up the hill. This time, countless firefighters, numerous firetrucks and two bucketing helicopters arrived. Another front-row seat.

With the checkpoint confusion, the Sheriff emailed the RCMP superintendent on Sunday and received a phone call from a sergeant. He emailed: "As per our phone discussion, you and the following individuals are permitted to go north from Scenic Drive to Galiano Road."

The two veterinarians taking care of ailing animals on Galiano Road emailed him back.

"When we came to the clinic yesterday evening, we still met considerable resistance trying to get to our property. The traffic workers won't even talk to you and the first RCMP officer that I talked to wouldn't let me onto Glenmore at all. I mentioned your name and that we are apparently on a list and he said he's never heard of you and no one is getting onto Glenmore. He didn't want to call anyone and look into it and just didn't seem to care."

More laughter because the Sheriff got the same response from a Vancouver RCMP member who was temporarily transferred to Kelowna on Monday.

"I don't know this sergeant. I don't see the entire email address (on this email printout) so I don't know if this email is authentic."

Our emails to the sergeant and a call to the EOC received no response. More laughter.

However, all's well that ends well. Glenmore Road and John Hindle Drive reopened later Monday. We laughed as we drove past Glenmore-Scenic bringing CCC's car home.


At Southern Interior downhill resorts, Big White Ski Resort will end its summer operations on Labour Day.

"For the final weekend of the season, Big White provided free lift tickets (by donation to local firefighters) for the bike park or sightseeing for 2023-24 season pass holders. The resort is excited to cap off the summer season with another busy weekend with great trail conditions while supporting our local heroes," said marketing associate Deanna Kristensen.

"We had a fantastic summer season up here at SilverStar, but the fun isn’t over yet," said marketing coordinator Chelsea Weisgerber. "There are still tons of great events and opportunities to ride at SilverStar Bike Park. Our last day of full-time operations is Monday (Sept. 4) with the gondola and Comet Chair spinning 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Our downhill trails then move to weekends only for Sept. 9 to10 and 16 to17. Cross-country trails will remain fully open until Sept. 17 and after that, the lower XC trails will be open to the public as long as weather permits.”

The Silver Star Beer and Cider Fest, with some of B.C.’s finest brews, food, a Polson Market pop-up, live music and games is Sept. 9.

At Sun Peaks Resort, closing dates vary depending on the activity, said Colin Brost, senior director for destination and market development at Tourism Sun Peaks.

"The chairlift closes on Sept. 24 so lift access for hiking and biking continues through most of September. Golf, canoe, kayak, etc. is weather-dependent. And indoor activities like axe-throwing are open year-round along with most restaurants, cafes and boutiques."

At Revelstoke Mountain Resort, the MTB Park's final day is Sept. 24 following the RCA 5er DH Race presented by the resort and Revelstoke Cycling Association, après party in the plaza, on Sept. 23.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

J.P. Squire arrived in the Okanagan Valley from flatland Chatham, Ont. in the middle of the night in the spring of 1980. Waking up in the Highway 97 motel, he looked across the then-four-lane roadway at Mount Baldy and commented: "Oh my God, there's mountains." Driving into downtown Kelowna, he exclaimed: "Oh my God, there's a lake."

The rest is history. After less than a month in Kelowna, he concluded: "I'm going to live here for a long time." And he did.

Within weeks and months, he was hiking local hillsides, playing rec hockey at Memorial Arena and downhill skiing at Big White Ski Resort. After purchasing a hobby farm in the Glenmore Valley in 1986, he bought the first of many Tennessee Walking Horses. After meeting Constant Companion Carmen in 1999, he bought two touring kayaks and they began exploring Interior lakes and B.C.'s coast.

The outdoor recreation column began with downhill ski coverage every winter as the Ski Sheriff but soon progressed to a year-round column as the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff.

His extensive list of contacts in Okanagan outdoor recreation clubs, organizations and groups means a constant flow of emails about upcoming events and activities which will be posted on Castanet every Sunday.

You can email the Sheriff at: [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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