Calm weather, kick-butt crews contain Bear Creek wildfire

A combination of things kept the Bear Creek fire from being worse than it was including solid work from fire crews

B.C. Wildfire Service firefighters J.P. Guimond (right) and Matt Melville

B.C. Wildfire Service firefighters J.P. Guimond (right) and Matt Melville

A combination of a cool and moist morning on Monday and some excellent work from both B.C. Wildfire and West Kelowna fire crews kept the Bear Creek fire from expanding and destroying any homes after igniting overnight on Sunday and being whipped into a frenzy by the overnight wind storm.

At its peak the fire came within metres of several homes in the Bear Creek area but crews were able to keep the blaze from destroying any homes. The fire did damage and destroy several out-buildings on area properties.

However as of Tuesday afternoon, Hydro crews were working to restore power to the area and an evacuation order had been lifted for 51 of the 156 properties originally evacuated. An evacuation alert remained in place for those 51 as well as 14 propertes in the Pine Point subdivisiopn, north of Trader’s Cove. More than 100 residents remained evacuated, although the situation is reviewed several times per day.

“A lot of infrastructure is down and still needs to be replaced; there is electricity that is off and there is a communications network that needs to be restored,” said Bruce Smith, communications officer for the Central Okanagan Regional District. “The evacuation order and alert is based on the fire activity. It’s just not safe yet to be able to send people home. We appreciate their patience. Until it is safe we have to keep the order and alert in effect.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation and officials could not comment on how it started. Winds overnight on Sunday helped the fire spread to a high of 53 hectares but cooler weather Monday morning allowed crews from BC Wildfire service to get the upper hand.

“The main reason we didn’t see a lot of growth was the calmer weather,” said Jason Bojahra of the B.C. Wildfire Service. “The day after the first burning period, we had a cool, moist morning, we had manpower on the scene and we had air support and they were able to get enough action on the perimeter of the fire to stop its growth. We’ve just been building on that ever since.”

Bojahra said crews were having a little bit of an easier time fighting this fire due to the wetter summer the Okanagan has had. However he cautioned it doesn’t take long for everything to become bone dry and a fire to flare up.

“The potential is there. All it takes is a week or two for the fuels to dry out and we could have a wind driven wildfire. The risk is almost always there,” said Bojahra, who noted warmer weather in the forecast could actually help crews find hot spots, but could also mean more fire potential for the Okanagan. “Certainly rainy, cool weather would help us out more. Hot, dry weather means more fire activity, especially if we get some windy conditions.”

Westside Road remains closed between Bear Creek Provincial Park and Traders Cove through the fire area.

The Emergency Support Services (ESS) Reception Centre in the Lions Hall at 2466 Main Street in West Kelowna is open to assist evacuees. More than 350 people have registered for assistance with ESS volunteers.

View the map on to see the current area under evacuation order or evacuation alert.