Residents living near the Campbell Mountain landfill northeast of Penticton, B.C., are renewing calls for increased fire protection after a major inferno enveloped the skies in thick black smoke on Sunday.
Water suppression efforts were delayed due to the lack of fire hydrants on site. Firefighters were forced to wait for additional water tenders and water trucks to arrive.
It was an unnerving scene for residents in the Spiller Road neighbourhood.
“It’s very dry up here. There are fires at the dump on a fairly regular basis as we’ve just seen, and because there are no fire hydrants, we have serious concerns about a wildfire spreading,” said Amelia Boultbee.
“Having to wait for additional fire trucks going to get additional water, that’s all — just time that can’t be wasted in a situation where it is this dry and things are burning.”
Resident Noreen Conway echoed those concerns.
“To have this dump area here for all these years without that required protection, I would have thought, I was surprised,” she told Global News near the landfill.
“I have a niece that lives up the road here as well and I know that they would prefer that there were fire hydrants and protection, whether it’s a reservoir building or some sort of structure to help them maintain safety. Absolutely it’s a concern.”
Boultbee is running for city council in the upcoming byelection on a platform that includes upgrading infrastructure to supply water for fire suppression.
“I would look really hard about whether there is a public-private partnership with an acceptable development that could come up here and bring water, lessen the burden on taxpayers that way, and if development is not slated for this area, we need to have the city bring hydrants up here. It is not acceptable.”
In February, city council voted down a 300-plus home subdivision proposed adjacent to the landfill. Plans included a new water reservoir and the extension of city water up above the landfill.
Penticton fire chief Larry Watkinson said it may take a successful development proposal to bring an improved fire suppression distribution system to the area.
“There would be expansion if a development does get approved,” he said.
In the meantime, Watkinson said he is confident with the department’s fire fighting capabilities at the landfill.
“I am pretty confident in the area with our mutual aid agreements. The City of Penticton has a significant water tender delivery system that we utilize when we are in areas that are non-hydrated,” he said.
“If the need expands beyond that one truck, then we have multiple other agencies that we can call upon to bring in more water to support our demands on the fire ground.”
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS), which operates the landfill, said the City of Penticton’s water system does not extend to the area and it’s unclear if the reservoir system would even support fire hydrants at the landfill.
“Water reservoirs must be high enough and large enough to support firefighting protection efforts. In addition, there would be a substantial cost associated with adding this infrastructure,” the RDOS said in a statement.
The regional district said it designs sites to help contain fires to specific areas and prevent them from spreading.
“Water is always available on-site with full water tank trucks. The fire departments were able to quickly augment the water using their own equipment. The RDOS also uses heavy equipment to move materials and apply soil to smother fires. In some cases, soil works better than water to control a fire, as water evaporates or runs off.”
Operations manager Andrew Reeder said he is sympathetic to the worries of area residents.
“We certainly understand their concerns and measures are in place to ensure that their homes and the area is protected from fires,” he said.
“We believe that our fire system is adequate.”
The RDOS said it is currently undertaking a master plan design for the Campbell Mountain landfill and will evaluate whether expanding the city water system is possible and feasible.
“If there’s ways to improve fire suppression we are certainly happy to look at that and see how we can help,” Reeder said.
“It certainly could cost quite abit of money. I don’t want to speculate on how much at this point in time.”
Watkinson urges homeowners in urban interface zones that face greater fire risk to follow FireSmart guidelines.
“I think it’s really important that the homeowners up there focus very heavily on FireSmarting their homes,” he said.
“I’d encourage the residents to reach out to the City of Penticton fire department and we will come do home assessments for them and we will help them plan a mitigation strategy so that their homes are more resilient to wildfires.”
To learn more about minimizing fire risk around your home, visit the City of Penticton’s website.