Smoke-filled fire season: The Okanagan’s top news story for 2018

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The Smokanagan
The Okanagan was nicknamed the Smokanagan because of thick wildfire smoke that choked much of the valley in late August – Aug 18, 2018

It was a busy year of news in the Okanagan with stories aplenty, ranging from joy to grief and admiration to disgust.

Some were shocking, such as the knife-wielding intruder in Osoyoos, while others were amazing, like the hours-long cave rescue of a Vancouver woman near Penticton.

The top story in the Okanagan, however, involved all those emotions and more: B.C.’s stunning, smoke-filled and record-setting fire season that seemingly lasted forever and impacted many Okanagan Valley residents.

WATCH BELOW: (Aired Sept. 11, 2018) BC Wildfires: More money available for prevention measures

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BC Wildfires: More money available for prevention measures

Thousands of hectares were burned in B.C.’s Southern Interior, part of what was a record-setting amount of land that was torched province-wide. By fire season’s end, 1,353,833 hectares had been burned, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service.

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The previous record total was 1,216,053 hectares in 2017.

READ MORE: Wildfire smoke is so thick in Prince George, it looks like night after the sun has risen

In the Kamloops Fire Centre, which includes the Okanagan, there were 428 fires which scorched 54,348 hectares. Thousands watched Global Okanagan television newscasts or went online to Global Okanagan to get the latest fire updates. And those viewers sent in scores of photos, from up and down the valley, of various fire scenes.

The Northwest Fire Centre had the largest total area burned while the Prince George Fire Centre had the highest number of fires.

  • Coastal Fire Centre: 297 fires, 175,044 hectares burned.
  • Northwest Fire Centre: 165 fires, 842,782 hectares burned.
  • Prince George Fire Centre: 452 fires, 156,939 hectares burned.
  • Cariboo Fire Centre: 312 fires, 67,349 hectares burned.
  • Kamloops Fire Centre: 428 fires, 54,348 hectares burned.
  • Southeast Fire Centre: 438 fires, 57,371 hectares burned.

Prior to 2017 and 2018, the province’s worst wildfire season was in 1958, when 855,968 hectares burned.

This past summer, states of emergencies came and went, along with road closures and evacuation orders. From June to early September, two questions were top of mind for most residents: Am I on alert? When will this end?

“We know the drill,” West Kelowna mayor Doug Findlater said on July 20th, when an evacuation alert for Glenrosa was issued, affecting approximately 495 residents.

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“We were through this in 2009, where all of Glenrosa was evacuated,” Findlater noted. “People are pretty adept and able to respond to it. People are nervous, even in the main area of Glenrosa that’s not in the alert, but people are starting to take precautions.”

READ MORE: Air quality level at 10-plus in smoke-filled Okanagan; Apple Triathlon cancels Saturday’s races

“Public safety is always our first priority, and as wildfire activity is expected to increase, this is a progressive step in our wildfire response to make sure British Columbia has access to any and all resources necessary,” Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, said in announcing a province-wide state of emergency on August 15th.

“Taking this step will further ensure we can protect the public, property and infrastructure, and assist with firefighting efforts.”

READ MORE: Super smoke forces cancellation of Penticton’s Super League Triathlon

That state of emergency ended 23 days later on September 7th.

Global News updated a daily page of fires happening throughout the province, and that page proved to be highly popular with readers, with more than one million clicks.

At its worst, thick smoke choked the valley, forcing the cancellation of many events during one August weekend.

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But as bad as this fire season was, it could have been worse — like the fire which completely destroyed the California community of Paradise in November.

“[Total hectares burned] is certainly just one benchmark of assessing the severity and the impact of a fire season,” B.C. Wildfire Service chief information officer Kevin Skrepnek said in September. “It certainly doesn’t always correlate to a higher degree of human impact.

READ MORE: Kelowna Dragonboat Festival cancelled; poor air quality cited as reason why

“We’ve certainly seen much worse fire seasons in terms of impacts to people in communities and certainly in terms of structures burned as well. So we have set that record in terms of total area burned, but definitely not the worst season on record from the broader sense.

“Years like 2017 or 2003 — just to name a few — definitely the overall impact of those years to property, environmental values and certainly timber values was quite a bit higher than this year.”


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