The White Rock Lake wildfire near Westwold is estimated 32,000 hectares in size

White Rock at 32,000 ha

UPDATE: 3:04 p.m.

Due to slightly better mapping, the White Rock Lake wildfire is now an estimated 32,000 hectares in size.

White Rock Lake Incident Commander, Scott Rennick, says overnight growth was significant to the south of the fire.

"We are hampered by severe smoke," says Rennick,

The BC Wildfire Service is reporting that cooler temperatures and precipitation may result in slight reprieve in fire behaviour over the next 48-hours.

Rennick says crews are struggling to fly over the fire on the east side of the flank due to the heavy smoke.

The smoke is making it very difficult for crews to properly assess the fire and Rennick said they are using satellite imagery as a way to better assess the blaze.

The Type 1 Incident Management Team will be heading to Vernon within the next 48-hours to work in conjunction with the Type 2 Quebec IMT that is currently stationed there, to help them manage the fire.

ORIGINAL: 9:46 a.m.

The White Rock Lake wildfire burning near Westwold saw aggressive growth overnight fire along the south flank, where much of the fire perimeter crossed over the Salmon River FSR, says the BC Wildfire Service.

As a result, the estimated fire size is expected to grow over the next 24-hours.

Showers with a chance of thunderstorms are expected today bringing clouds and temperatures down to 20 C.

Extreme burning conditions will remain until additional moisture and clouds come to the area.

Depending on precipitation amounts, there may be a slight reprieve in fire behaviour over the next 48-hours, says BCWS.

Ten helicopters are assigned to the White Rock Lake wildfire and will be delivering water to problematic areas of the fire to support ground suppression efforts.

The helicopter fleet includes a Sikorsky 64 SkyCrane helicopter, which has a 2,650-gallon tank that is fillable in less than one minute.

Along with the 10 helicopters there will also be 99 firefighters, seven danger tree assessors/fallers, 39 pieces of heavy equipment, 10 support staff and BC Wildfire Service Incident Management Team.

“A ground-based retardant unit continues to reinforce control lines east of the fire perimeter. This unit is a large truck that can apply the same type of retardant used by air tankers to help slow the spread of the fire, allowing equipment and crews time and space to safely work along pre-constructed control lines,” says BCWS.

One structural protection specialist, 41 structure protection personnel from twelve fire departments are monitoring the area.

There remains 115 properties evacuated due to the fire, in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, the Regional District of North Okanagan and the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District. An evacuation alert was issued for properties north of Sugarloaf Mountain on Friday.

The blaze is currently estimated at 24,000 hectares in size.

In an evening update on Saturday, Hannah Swift, Fire Information Officer from the Incident Management Team who are currently stationed in Penticton, says they will be relocating to Vernon to better manage the White Rock Lake fire.


North Okanagan RCMP are investigating multiple deliberately set fires in Armstrong over the weekend

Police investigate arson

Multiple deliberately set grass fires in Armstrong are being investigated by the North Okanagan RCMP.

On Saturday two small grass fires were discovered by a member of the public while out on a walk.

The grass fires were burning in the ditch near the intersection of Otter Lake Road and Fraser Road in Armstrong.

At approximately 5:30 a.m. after calling 911, the witness successfully snuffed out the majority of the flames, preventing the spread of the fire prior to police and fire crews arrival.

A second small fire discovered in the vicinity was also contained and put out.

An investigation of the scene, conducted by frontline members of the North Okanagan RCMP, determined the circumstances of the fire to be suspicious and police are now turning to the public for their assistance in furthering the investigation.

“It’s distressing that someone would be jeopardizing the safety of our community by intentionally setting these fires,” said Cpl. Dave Blake of the North Okanagan RCMP.

“We are asking anyone who has any information about these fires that may assist the investigation to please contact police.”

Specifically, police are asking anyone who was in the area of Otter Lake Road and Fraser Road on the morning of July 31 between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. who witnessed anything suspicious, or was driving in the area and has dashcam video.

To report anything to the RCMP call 250-546-3028 or remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

To report a wildfire or irresponsible behaviour that could start a wildfire in British Columbia, please call 1 800 663-5555 or (*5555 from a cell phone) as soon as possible, or call 911.

Heat warning lifted for Okanagan Valley and South Thompson regions, air quality alert remains

Air quality still an issue

The heat warnings issued by Environment Canada for the Okanagan Valley as well as the South Thompson region have been lifted, but smoky skies are still an issue.

As of Sunday morning, the heat warnings for the Central Okanagan, South Okanagan, North Okanagan and the South Thompson region have ended, but the special air quality statement remains in effect.

Environment Canada said many regions of B.C. are being impacted or are likely to be impacted by wildfire smoke over the next 24 to 48 hours.

The air quality health index is currently 'very high' at 10+ for all Okanagan regions and the South Thompson.

Individuals may experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath.

Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk.

Environment Canada says if your home is not air-conditioned, be sure the house doesn't get too warm when doors and windows are closed to keep out smoke. Exposure to too much heat can also result in illness.

Catch fires when they're small, don't let them grow - former firefighter critical of BC wildfire response

Critical of fire management

George Benwell says things need to change at the highest levels when it comes to fighting wildfires in B.C.

Benwell lives near the Three Valley Lake fire and says if management had put crews on the blaze when it was small, the situation would not be what it is today.

As of Friday, the fire burning above Three Valley Gap had been mapped at 309 hectares.

An evacuation order was issued by the Columbia Shuswap Regional District for the north side of the Trans-Canada Highway at the Three Valley Gap Chateau, along with an alert for two other properties.

Benwell, who was a contract firefighter and dangerous tree faller in the 1980s and '90s, tells Castanet he has concerns about how upper levels of management have been dealing with wildfires in the province.

He said he is in no way critical of front-line fire crews, who he says are doing a good job given the task before them.

He said the Three Valley fire is a good example of how not handle a wildfire.

“It was a small lightning strike for a few days. There were no resources put on it, now it has blown up into a problem,” he said.

His own wood lot is being burned by the fire.

“There are a lot of problems going on with BC Wildfire and the government's response ... it's about the management,” he said.

He says he's been critical of how management have handled wildfires for the past 20 years.

“The main critique is they are remote, bureaucratic and exclusive. They don't really interface well with the industrial community, forestry, or the locals.”

Benwell said more initial attack crews are needed to hit fires while they are still small.

“It's the bureaucracy, it isn't the crews. It's in the upper management,” said Benwell, who authored a paper in 2017 on what he believes needs to be done to better manage wildfires.

Benwell says he understands that fires near major centres get the most attention, but if crews can knock down fires when they are still small – like at Three Valley – they won't have to throw more resources at them when they inevitably grow larger, and crews could concentrate on the fires near larger centres.

“If catch it when it is small, you can deal with it quickly,” he said.

The story of James Dun-Waters lives on at a Vernon distillery with an award-winning whisky

Laird of Fintry lives on

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, click here.

In March 2020, Vernon’s Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery received a gold medal for their Laird of Fintry Single-Malt Whisky at the World Spirit Awards in Austria.

The celebrated distillery releases this product only once a year through a lottery process. Although the whisky itself is obviously in high demand, the story behind its unique name is less well-known.

Who was the Laird of Fintry?

He was James Cameron Dun-Waters. Dun-Waters was raised in Scotland, and at the age of 22, inherited a significant amount of money.

This fortune brought him to Canada to pursue his interest in hunting. In 1909, he was exploring a delta along the west side of Okanagan Lake known as Shorts’ Point when he decided this was where he wanted to settle.

A year later, he had purchased the land and renamed it “Fintry” after his hometown in Scotland. Here he remained for 31 years.

Dun-Waters had a great love of the outdoors, and was an avid hunter and athlete. His particular passion was for curling, and rinks in all parts of the province came to know the Laird’s gusty voice and buoyant personality.

Up until the day of his passing, Dun-Waters served as the president of the curling club in Fintry, Scotland. He also had a great interest in Ayrshire cattle, and cultivated his own award-winning herd.

Dun-Waters was an active community member, and was involved with the CPR, the BC Fruit Growers Association and the Armstrong Interior Provincial Exhibition. He was married twice, first to Alice Orde, who died in 1924, and then to Margaret Menzies.

He also served overseas during the First World War.

When Dun-Waters’ health began to fail, and with no heir to inherit his property, he sold his estate at Fintry to the Fairbridge Farm School system for $1.

Dun-Waters died on Oct. 16, 1939.

But what is his connection to whisky?

Dun-Waters was a lover of the drink, and around 1910, had a special batch of scotch sent to him in Canada all the way from his native Scotland.

The Okanagan Spirit’s creation uses a replica of the label that adorned these earlier bottles, and Dun-Waters’ story lives on.

Gwyn Evans is the community engagement co-ordinator with the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives.

Evacuation order issued for Queest Village and Pete Martin Bay due to Crazy Creek Gorge wildfire

Evac order for Queest

An Evacuation Order has been issued by the Columbia Shuswap Regional District at the Shuswap Emergency Program’s Emergency Operations Centre from the Crazy Creek Gorge fire on Saturday night.

The order is in effect for the communities of Queest Village and Pete Martin Bay, including those properties approximately 1.5 km south of Queest Village.

There is limited commercial lodging available at this time. If evacuees cannot stay with family or friends, please report to the Best Western, located at 806 Trans Canada Highway, Sicamous, to register.

For more information, visit the CSRD's website here.

The wildfire sparked in the CSRD's Electoral Area E and sits at 1,700 hectares in size. BC Wildfire Service had a structural protection specialist assessing homes in the area on Saturday

White Rock Lake fire sees under 'elevated fire behaviour' on Saturday, growth expected to continue

White Rock jumps in size

UPDATED: 7:15 p.m.

Both the Shuswap Emergency program and BC Wildfire Service updated the White Rock Lake Wildfire on Saturday evening, highlighting the growth and elevated fire behavior.

The wildfire is estimated at 24,000 hectares in size with growth to the east and northeast. Both the Evacuation Alert and Order remain in effect.

"Conditions on site are extremely smoky, which is hampering the ability for aircraft to fly and challenging suppression efforts. Heavy smoke in the area is also impacting hydro lines. As a result, power outages have occurred and may continue to do so," BCWS stated in their update.

Crews are continuing to work towards safe, achievable operational objectives under extremely adverse conditions. Public and first responder safety remains BCWS's top priority.

To protect the safety of the public and first responders, the BC Wildfire Service will continue to evaluate the need for further evacuation orders and alert recommendations.

ORIGINAL: 8:40 a.m.

Fire crews are expecting “extremely adverse conditions” on the White Rock Lake wildfire this weekend, with high temperatures, dry conditions and possible variable wind shifts.

The large fire burning southwest of Westwold remains estimated at 20,891 hectares in size, but it's expected to grow towards the east and northeast directions Saturday.

The BC Wildfire Service says extremely smoky conditions on the fire continue to cause problems for air support on the blaze.

“Today, very high temperatures and dry conditions will continue to bring elevated fire behaviour,” the BCWS said in its morning update. “Isolated showers with a slight risk of thunderstorms this afternoon may bring variable wind shifts and further hamper suppression efforts.

"Crews are continuing to work towards safe, achievable operational objectives under extremely adverse conditions. Public and first responder safety remains BC Wildfire Service's top priority."

Firefighters continue to patrol a machine guard line that was built along a powerline on the northwest flank, extinguishing hot spots, while another machine guard is being built, connecting to Monte-Pratt Road.

The BCWS says if conditions are favourable, more planned ignitions will take place on the southeast and northeast flanks of the fire.

There are 117 firefighters working on the large blaze, including 100 from Quebec. Eight helicopters, 38 pieces of heavy equipment and nine danger tree assessors and fallers are also on scene. Additionally, 40 firefighters from 10 different municipal fire departments are working to protect structures from the fire.

“Structural protection personnel will continue to assess and prioritize critical infrastructure and properties, working from Monte Lake towards the Falkland Corridor via Highway 97,” the BCWS said.

There remains 115 properties evacuated due to the fire, in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, the Regional District of North Okanagan and the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District. Friday, the Regional District of Central Okanagan issued an evacuation alert for properties north of Sugarloaf Mountain.

Several large fires see growth in the Shuswap area

Fires grow in Shuswap

UPDATED: 7:07 p.m.

An evening update from the Shuswap Emergency Program on the several wildfires in the area reiterated that due to the thick smoke, BC Wildfire Service is currently unable to get accurate perimeters of the fires. But some of the updates carry growth in size on Saturday evening.

The Two Mile fire is now estimated at 1,200 hectares in size and is burning in a northeast direction. There are 58 firefighters, three helicopters, and 10 heavy equipment resources in this location. Both the Evacuation Alert and Order remain in effect.

"Highway 97A remains closed between Emeny Road and Sicamous Creek Frontage Road to protect responders and residents. There are burnt trees and power poles that are falling onto the highway creating unsafe conditions for the traveling public," the Columbia Shuswap Regional District said in an update Saturday.

"While it may be inconvenient to temporarily detour, responder and resident safety are paramount."

For Hunakwa Lake, the fire was estimated at 2,700 hectares in size. There are 14 firefighters, two helicopters, and five structure protection personnel on scene. An Evacuation Alert is in effect for the community of Seymour Arm and an Evacuation Order is in effect for properties nearer to the fire.

Crazy Creek Gorge fire sits at 1,700 ha in size. The communities of Queest Village and Pete Martin Bay are still under an Evacuation Alert. Structure protection assets arrived in the community today to assess the needs.

Three Valley Lake is advancing to the northwest into very steep terrain, estimated at 309 hectares in size. Both the Evacuation Alert and Order remain in effect.

ORIGINAL: 2:30 p.m.

Several wildfires continue to burn in the Shuswap area Saturday.

The Two Mile Road wildfire has been growing to the northeast, away from Sicamous, but Highway 97A continues to be closed between Sicamous and Grindrod.

The fire, now estimated at 1,000 hectares, is showing Rank 2 behaviour, which involves visible, open flame, but a slow rate of spread.

“Crews have had some success preventing the fire from reaching the highway corridor and are working hard to keep it away from the community,” the BC Wildfire Service said Saturday morning. “Focusing on the northwest section, securing lines to keep fire from backing down the slope to the community.”

Fifty-eight firefighters along with three helicopters are assigned to the fire, although dense smoke has grounded the helicopters Saturday.

Close to 1,000 residents remain evacuated in the Sicamous area.

The Momich Lake fire, burning near Adams Lake, has grown to an estimated 6,500 hectares. Presently, 40 pieces of heavy equipment are assigned to the fire, and additional air support is available if the skies become clear enough.

The Crazy Creek Gorge FSR wildfire is burning a 1,700-hectare area Saturday.

Homes in the Queest Village and Pete Martin Bay areas are under evacuation alert, and the BCWS says a structural protection specialist is assessing homes in the area.

Finally, the Hunakwa Lake fire near Seymour Arm is burning 2,700 hectares Saturday. Heavy smoke in the area has hindered air support on the fire for the past three days, but 14 firefighters are assigned to the blaze. Nearby Seymour Arm is under an evacuation alert, while some homes in the area have been evacuated.

“The BC Wildfire Service continues to work in conjunction with industry as they bring in heavy equipment to widen roads and construct containment lines around the community as a precautionary measure,” the BCWS said Saturday. “Five structural protection units are also on scene.”

Vernon woman overcomes struggles to finish school with help of WorkBC

Overcoming challenges

With the help of WorkBC, Caitlin Heinloo was able to succeed in school after taking time off to take care of herself.

Heinloo, a writing and publishing diploma student whose hard work earned her a spot on the Okanagan College dean’s list, finished her first year of studies in the spring.

But she was temporarily halted due to a long-term disability and general anxiety disorder.

“I worked really hard in high school to the point I burnt myself out. I was accepted to the University of British Columbia Okanagan with a scholarship, but deferred for a year after graduation,” says Heinloo. “I wanted to have a year off to live my life before going into a university career.”

During her time off, Heinloo began feeling unwell and knew something was wrong. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes painful ulcers to form in the lining of the large intestine.

“I feel very lucky that I did defer. I would not have been able to continue with my schoolwork at that time,” says Heinloo.

She focused on work during her year-gap until her illness made it difficult to hold down a job. She moved back in with her parents as she struggled with employment.

“Caitlin experienced significant health challenges that had her start from zero,” says Hallie Webster, Heinloo’s case manager at WorkBC.

“She was somebody who didn’t know what she could do, but she persevered and had faith in the process. Her growth has been incredible to see.”

With the help of WorkBC, Heinloo re-entered the workforce with a three-year stint at Tea Desire before transitioning to a position at Secret Origins.

She spent her days creating custom T-shirts for clients based on anime and comics. From there, she expanded on her creativity and secured funding to return to Okanagan College as a full-time student.

Heinloo is preparing for her return to in-person lessons this fall.

Hello Okanagan pays Marten Brew Pub a visit in downtown Vernon

Mmmmm, craft beer

Peter Kaz and David Scarlatescu are back with the latest episode of Hello Okanagan.

This week, they have accepted the assignment of visiting Marten Brew Pub in downtown Vernon.

Each week, Kaz and Scarlatescu talk with Okanagan business leaders, debate issues facing the region, and promote the Valley as a whole.

The videos will be aired each Saturday, and you can see them here on Castanet.

If you any questions or suggestions, contact them via the Hello Okanagan Facebook page.

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