Officials say strong winds failed to fuel Penticton, B.C., wildfire

PENTICTON, B.C. — Strong winds that were expected to fuel a wildfire burning south of Penticton, B.C., on Friday failed to do so, officials said Saturday.

The 20-square-kilometre Christie Mountain fire did not experience significant growth and Penticton fire Chief Larry Watkinson said crews and residents are lucky with how the weather turned out.

“We were very fortunate yesterday with the wind event, although it was quite vigorous above Penticton and on the hillsides, it was very soft on the fire,” he said.

The fire burned along similar lines as the Garnet fire from 1994, which Watkinson said allowed the fire to move quickly but also meant it had limited fuel sources.

“We feel very confident that the fire is no longer threatening structures adjacent to the fire in the city of Penticton,” he said.

The Garnet fire burned 55 square kilometres, destroying 18 homes and forcing more than 4,000 residents to flee their homes in 1994.

The department allowed 110 firefighters to return home to their respective communities after battling the blaze, Watkinson added.

However, Dan Taudin-Chabot with the B.C. Wildfire Service said there remain some concerns about the way the wind is now pushing the fire.

The wind pushing the fire north towards the city has reversed course, allowing the fire to potentially burn new fuel sources, he said.

“Once the cold front passes, the wind shifts 180 and starts going back the other direction,” said Taudin-Chabot. ”So now we’re getting winds pushing on the fire in a direction that we haven’t seen yet, so for us it’s really important that we gain and establish control with the winds now pushing in the other direction before we make decisions.”

The fire is burning on rocky, sloped terrain, making it hard for ground crews and heavy equipment to tackle.

An evacuation alert in the city of Penticton for more than 3,600 properties remains in effect.

Mayor John Vassilaki praised citizens for allowing fire crews to freely operate — and for not stopping their vehicles to look at the fire.

A special weather statement from Environment Canada also warns of the impact of smoke on the area’s air quality over the next few days.

Nicole Morrell, the assistant manager of the 5000 Motel — one of the businesses under the alert — said locals are used to the threats of wildfires as it’s part of living in the Okanagan.

In southeastern B.C., meanwhile, a 30-square-kilometre wildfire burning west of Canal Flats has been moving uphill and away from nearby infrastructure.

Ten properties near that fire remain on an evacuation order.

This report was first published by the Canadian Press on Aug. 22, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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