The massive White Rock Lake wildfire burning in B.C.’s Southern Interior is wreaking havoc on operations at Kelowna International Airport (YLW) with at least 40 flights cancelled over the past 24 hours.
Phillip Elchitz, senior airport operations manager, said the BC Wildfire Service increased the size of the no-fly zone in the vicinity of the wildfire on Sunday afternoon.
“The White Rock Lake fire boundary has moved east to Lake Okanagan with a no-fly zone up to 10,000 feet above sea level — this is affecting the instrument approaches into the airport,” Elchitz said.
“As with any adverse weather situations, travellers are reminded to check in with their airline for the most up-to-date flight information before coming to the airport.”
Elchitz said he expects most departures and arrivals scheduled for Monday will also be cancelled due to the dynamic situation.
“We expect the majority of the flights today to be cancelled and we encourage passengers to check the flight status of their flight,” he said.
Stranded passengers have been struggling to find last-minute hotel accommodations during the August long weekend — the peak of the tourism season in the Okanagan.
A handful of passengers slept at the airport on Sunday night.
“We are allowing passengers who are having trouble finding accommodations to overnight at the airport. We do have an area set aside to facilitate those passengers,” Elchitz said.
Officials with Kelowna International Airport are working with NAV Canada, Transport Canada and the BC Wildfire Service to find a temporary solution “that will allow the resumption of instrument flight operations in and out of the airport.”
Elchitz couldn’t say when flights will resume.
“It really depends on the behaviour of the wildfire and the boundaries that the BC Wildfire Service outlines as the no-fly zone, that is what is really going to affect the ability for instrument operations,” he said.
“The other piece is, if the smoke does start to clear in the vicinity of the airport, then aircraft will be able to arrive and depart visually, which will allow for a resumption of operations.”
The White Rock Lake wildfire, burning 34 kilometres northwest of Vernon, has exploded in size to 32,312 hectares and remains out-of-control.
Evacuation orders and alerts were expanded on Sunday. The wildfire now impacts homes in five local jurisdictions, stretching east of Kamloops, west of Vernon, and south to Kelowna.