The Current

'Everyone remembers it': B.C. Okanagan fires trigger reminder of 2003 disaster

Fires and smoke still smouldering in parts of B.C.'s Okanagan Valley have residents and business owners concerned they may see a repeat of previous record fires.

Fires have grown as big as 1,500 hectares, says CBC's Brady Strachan

Smoke fills the air between Peachland and Summerland in B.C. on July 18, 2018 as wildfires continue in the area. (Nilmini Weera)

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As a spell of fires continue to burn in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley, residents and business owners worry it could approach the severity of the catastrophic fires of 2003 that burned down more than 200 homes.

"When you have been through it you also know the potential damage that it can do," said winery owner Gordon Fitzpatrick of the 2003 firestorm that resulted in damage to his property.

People gather near Kelowna, B.C. to watch flames across Lake Okanagan creeping closer to Mission area homes on Aug. 21, 2003. At its peak, the Okanagan Mountain Park forest fire was a rank-six firestorm, forcing over 33,000 people to evacuate the area. (Gary Nylander/Kelowna Daily Courier/Canadian Press)

"Everyone remembers it. Whenever you talk to an evacuee they may not have experienced the fire but they remember that time," CBC B.C.'s Brady Strachan told The Current's guest host Megan Williams.

The initial 22 fires in the Okanagan region this week have been whittled down to seven, said Strachan, but some of the remaining fires have grown as big as 1,500 hectares.

"[The fires] started up last Tuesday when we had a very hot day followed by a dry lightning — basically a thunderstorm that rolled through the Okanagan Valley, followed Okanagan Lake from the south to the north, and littering the hillsides of the lake with lightning — but not much rain," he explained.

He added evacuees are anxious to get back into their homes, after almost a week away.

The front entrance of Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards in the Okanagan valley, on July 18, with Mount Eneas in the distance. (Submitted by Gordon Fitzpatrick)

The fires are threatening hundreds of homes in the Peachland region, just outside of West Kelowna, said Strachan.

Fire officials predict stabilizing winds will play a key factor in getting the fires under control.

Air quality advisories are in effect for people with respiratory problems, children and seniors.

Strachan noted the smell of smoke is constant. 

"It smells like you're at a campfire all the time and that's just sort of become the smell of summer for many communities in the southern interior of British Columbia," he told Williams.

"Every year we're getting fires near communities. You can almost count on it."

Listen to the full discussion near the top of this page.

This segment was produced by The Current's Allie Jaynes, Kristian Jebsen and Anne Penman.


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