“The fire did precisely what we designed it to do”, says Rick Pasutto, the forestry consultant who’s been steering the wildfire mitigation efforts around the neighbourhoods and in the backcountry of Wilden.
The Blenk family, developers of Wilden, invested $1.2 million over the past six years to brace the Wilden community for the day, when a fire would hit one of the many wooded areas of their land.
Everyone involved in the Wilden fire mitigation project had run through countless scenarios of how a wildfire could enter the roughly 1,400-acre property. Yet, no one could have foreseen the way it happened on Aug. 17.
When the McDougall Creek Wildfire in West Kelowna jumped the lake to the east side between 9 p.m. and 10p.m., the slopes directly below Wilden Ridge quickly burned up the hill through partly non-mitigated terrain just outside of the Wilden boundaries. The fire hit the Wilden natural area when it was at its hottest.
The Wilden Fire Watch cabin at the community’s nicest lake view spot, cherished by residents as a hiking destination and built by the late visionary behind Wilden, Gerhard Blenk, was reduced to ashes in a matter of minutes.
Fortunately, a critical fire break, established by the mitigation crews, ran just behind it. That strategic intervention proved pivotal in slowing the inferno’s advance when it posed the greatest threat. Thanks to the rigorous mitigation efforts across the entire Wilden territory, the flames remained at ground level, consuming mostly only grass as they descended toward the residential areas.
Residents watched the fire approach while they evacuated in a hurry, but by then it was already relatively well-behaved. It was the firefighters who shouldered the responsibility from there, safeguarding each and every home nestled within the 14 Wilden neighbourhoods.
“What happened was the best-case situation in the worst-case scenario”, says Pasutto. “Nature got its way and cleaned up the ground completely, making way for fresh vegetation and a healthier density of trees that is less susceptible to fire.”
While it may require a couple of years for the slopes above Wilden to regain their lushness, there is a silver lining. Beyond the immediate vicinity of the lost cabin, the soil did not experience intense burning, paving the way for a swift recovery. The layer of ashes that now blankets the terrain hasn’t formed an impermeable seal. Precipitation will be absorbed, minimizing the risk of flooding. Going forward, the ashes will serve as a natural fertilizer.
Currently, Wilden's wildfire-impacted lands are a do-not-enter zone. There is still ongoing monitoring of hot spots and other hazardous conditions. Burnt roots, stump holes covered with ash, loose rock, dangerous trees etc., are scattered throughout the landscape, posing a significant risk for people and dogs. The forecasted warm and dry weather until the end of September will delay the assistance of much needed rain.
As much as the Blenk family would like to provide recreational use of the lands to their residents, they cannot allow public access in any of the burned areas until further notice.
The Wilden team kindly requests the understanding and cooperation of all those accustomed to hiking around Wilden Ridge. For the foreseeable future there will be crews engaged in assessing and securing the trails. Fortunately, there remain untouched natural areas and trail networks on the east side of Wilden, unaffected by the fire’s impact.
Please be vigilant for posted signs, and if you encounter a do-not-enter” sign, seek other hiking opportunities.
This article is written by or on behalf of the sponsoring client and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.