Editorial — B.C.’s wildfire vulnerability

Sunday's fire shows how vulnerable many areas of B.C. are to the forces of nature.

The wildfire that struck Peachland with ferocity on Sunday night is another reminder of just how vulnerable many parts of B.C. are to the forces of nature, and how little can be done to adequately prepare for such events.

At the time of writing, the cause of the fire was not known. What is known is that it started in one small area not far from Highway 97C, on the west side of the small community, at about 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Within just a few minutes it was a  raging inferno, driven by strong winds and feeding on the tinder dry forest and grasses.

Homes, farms, orchards and livestock were in the immediate path of the fire, and more than 1,500 people were evacuated within a few hours.

The quick response from both the ministry of forests, which dispatched water bombers and helicopters and a large ground crew, and also from numerous Okanagan fire departments, helped to contain the spread of the fire. But on Monday morning, it was still burning and was not under control. Some buildings had burned, but the extent of the destruction is unconfirmed.

B.C. has learned something from the 2003 Okanagan Mountain wildfire, which destroyed more than 200 homes in Kelowna and charred a huge area on the east side of Okanagan Lake. The destruction remains visible from Peachland and many other Okanagan communities.

In that fire, the response was not as quick and the co-ordination efforts developed over time as the fire progressed.

However, there is no way to absolutely prevent wildfires. There are many causes, such as lightning, that humans have no control over. The tinder dry conditions are to be expected each year, later in the summer months and sometimes even earlier.

People want to live in beautiful communities like Peachland and Kelowna and some of their homes will be located in areas that could easily be hit by a wildfire. Just a few years ago, a similar situation in West Kelowna caused a great deal of concern, but that fire was eventually put out without damage being too extensive. It was a close call.

People must do all they can to be careful with any open flames, and it seems that most people have heeded that message. But the threat of wildfire will never go away. Quick and well-prepared responses are critical.