Firefighters slowly gaining control of Kelowna blaze that forced 11,000 to flee

KELOWNA, B.C. - Two forest fires that have forced thousands to flee their homes in the Kelowna area were likely caused by people, but fire officials say that doesn't mean they were set deliberately.

KELOWNA, B.C. - Two forest fires that have forced thousands to flee their homes in the Kelowna area were likely caused by people, but fire officials say that doesn't mean they were set deliberately.

"It could have been accidental," Rob Moore, of the B.C. Forest Service, said at a briefing Monday.

"We have no reason to believe they were deliberately set. Given the weather conditions and the fire weather indices, the dryness of the fuels, the ease of ignition there's a number of human-related fire causes."

Moore said investigators are trying to figure out exactly why the fires started and they've been interviewing people, taking pictures and gathering other facts.

The larger of the two fires is burning near the Glenrosa subdivision of West Kelowna, a separate community across Okanagan Lake from the city. It has forced 10,000 people from their homes.

Slowly, it's coming under control.

Moore said about 40 per cent of the fire had been contained and "we're hoping by the end of today, maybe it will be a little bit more than that."

The fire began as little more than a wisp of smoke late Saturday afternoon, but fanned by strong winds it spread quickly in the tinder-dry forest, growing to about 3.5 square kilometres by Sunday morning.

At least three houses and six other structures were initially reported incinerated. Officials did not update that figure Monday.

Since Sunday, though, the fire hasn't spread.

A second fire 10 kilometres away in Rose Valley is about 1.5 square kilometres in size and it has pushed another 1,200 people out of their homes.

It is burning in steep terrain and fire fighters are having a difficult time accessing it, but its spread also appears to have been halted.

Also Monday, an additional 13 people were put on evacuation alert as a result of a third fire in the region. The Terrace Mountain fire burning near Fintry is 35 kilometres north of Kelowna on the west side of Okanagan Lake.

Wayne Schnitzler, of West Kelowna Fire Rescue, said crews would be doing damage assessments Monday and should soon be able to let evacuated families know the status of their homes.

B.C. Solicitor General Kash Heed, who has been in his new job for just over a month, said he was shocked at the destruction caused by the fire.

He said the provincial government will be doing whatever it can to help the residents and surrounding area.

"I just flew in less than an hour ago and I had an opportunity to view some of the fire scene from the air and I just couldn't believe it," said Heed. "The devastation that its caused in this area, I was just in awe of that."

The mayor of West Kelowna has officially declared a state of emergency, giving his district the ability to access emergency funding from the province.

Doug Findlater said despite the partial containment of the Glenrosa fire, the risk of further devastation is still high.

"You're not going to build a fire guard a kilometre wide, so when those embers get into another area and if they don't get them out, then you start another fire, so it's still a very dangerous fire."

Meanwhile, the B.C. SPCA in Kelowna is asking for help to look after 300 animals rescued from the wildfires.

They include horses, livestock and domestic pets gathered from behind the evacuation lines. Another 42 pets were dropped off by their guardians at the Kelowna shelter for temporary boarding.

Bob Busch, general manager of operations for the organization, said horses and livestock have been placed in local facilities such as the Kelowna Riding Club and foster farms until their owners can return to their properties.

Pets are being placed with SPCA foster families.

But the shelter is in need of pet carriers, litter trays, towels and case, as well as hay for the horses.

The fires threatening West Kelowna are across Okanagan Lake from the Kelowna neighbourhood devastated by the August 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire.

The blaze destroyed more than 200 homes and forced tens of thousands to flee the wall of flames before it was declared contained in a month later.

 
 
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