On the eve of a new wildfire season, the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) has provided an update on the province’s efforts to determine the causes of some of last summer’s major Okanagan blazes.
However, many unanswered questions remain about the harrowing 2021 fire season.
The service said the White Rock Lake fire has officially been deemed lightning-caused.
The Okanagan’s worst fire of 2021, White Rock Lake menaced a large chunk of B.C.’s Southern Interior for weeks, triggered multiple waves of evacuations, destroyed dozens of homes and caused millions in property damage.
However, the wildfire service says it doesn’t have a detailed cause report as formal origin, and cause investigations are only completed for some human-caused wildfires.
“It sounds like they are just tossing that off pretty quickly that it was caused by lightning so I wonder if there should have been perhaps a bit more investigation into that,” said Ken Gillis, Thompson-Nicola Regional District board chair.
Gillis represents areas like Monte Lake and Paxton Valley which were hard hit by the fire, he wants to see a review of the response to the fire.
“Seems to me that it would have warranted a very, very thorough investigation considering that the fire ran so long and so far after it was initially discovered. We hear all kinds of anecdotal evidence about what happened following the discovery of the fire and what actions BC Wildfire did or did not take, and it leaves us very, very concerned,” Gillis said.
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Since last summer, the wildfire service has defended its response to the blaze saying the first initial attack crew arrived within 30 minutes and the fire was already burning aggressively.
The service is also standing by its investigation procedures.
“The cause of the White Rock Lake wildfire was documented following the standard procedure for any wildfire event in British Columbia. All cause assessments, investigations, and determinations are taken seriously and the work undertaken by crews and fire origin and cause specialists is carried out with diligence and care,” BC Wildfire Service said in a statement.
BCWS said a lightning detection system reports strikes in real-time which helps officials to determine the cause of naturally occurring fires.
“If a fire is assessed to be naturally caused, there is no need for further investigation. There are no reports to release,” BCWS said.
In early July, the Clerke Road wildfire flared spectacularly up a hillside along Highway 97 south of Vernon.
It frightened residents and forced evacuations, and was a small harbinger of the harrowing wildfire season to come.
We will likely never know exactly what sparked the fire. The blaze is suspected human-caused, but BCWS said there were no witnesses to the ignition near the highway, and there is no formal cause report to release.
BCWS has also confirmed the bunting road wildfire near Mabel Lake was lightning-caused.
As local officials said at the time, a vehicle is suspected of causing the Two Mile Road fire that triggered major evacuations in Sicamous.
BCWS said the causes of three other major Okanagan blazes are still under investigation.
Investigations for the Mount Law wildfire, the Nk’Mip Creek wildfire and the Thomas Creek wildfire are ongoing.
The Mount Law fire destroyed a West Kelowna home, the massive Nk’Mip Creek fire burnt almost 20,000 hectares and destroyed a few homes in the South Okanagan, and the large Thomas Creek wildfire burnt thousands of hectares near Okanagan Falls.