As hundreds of evacuees displaced by the Christie Mountain wildfire southeast of Penticton, B.C., returned home last week, shuttered wineries on the Skaha Bench began reopening as well.
The aggressive brush fire burned within one kilometre of Painted Rock Estate Winery, forcing the evacuation of guests and staff on Aug. 18 as well as a six-day temporary closure.
“All the trees, they were all candling and the winds were up significantly,” said owner John Skinner of the unnerving scene.
Skinner spent a week monitoring his winery and vineyards while observing the battle from across Skaha Lake.
“It was incredibly stressful actually. It was quite emotional because our family has made an enormous commitment to this over 16 to 17 years and to have that all just be totally at-risk,” he said.
The viticulturist praised the precise and relentless efforts of aerial fire crews, who boxed the property in with fire retardant.
“That protected us during the height of the threat,” he said.
But the business owner was not only hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and an interface wildfire.
“Our garage was broken into a couple nights ago and they stole $20,000 worth of bikes and things,” he said.
“Really disheartening, the timing of it, with everything else. That’s really upsetting.”
“I thought if they come in threes, we’ve got them all, 2020 we can put this behind us.”
However, Skinner says he knows the outcome could’ve been much worse.
“Considering the threat, I am thanking our lucky stars,” he said.
“This is just the best case scenario, the fuel is now burned from around us so maybe we have another 25 years of peace.”
Skinner is also optimistic his wine grapes will be spared from smoke taint.
“We would have had all the leaves around the clusters removed but we left them on the ensure there was no soot on the fruit.”
As the winery re-opens to patrons, Skinner says he’s looking forward to putting this year in the past and plans to share the fruits of his labour with first responders.
“If we are going to get rid of 2020 and we survived this, I’m going to make sure some wine makes it to their celebrations,” he said.
The 2,100 hectare wildfire is classified as “being held,” meaning it is not expected to spread beyond its existing boundaries, however the difficult terrain continues to pose challenges for fire crews.
On Saturday, the blaze breached a control line and burned into a ravine requiring additional air support.
Last week all evacuation orders and alerts in the area were rescinded.