Kathy Michaels/Capital News A view of the Okanagan Mountain Park fire on Wednesday from the west side of the lake.

Forestry manager isn’t surprised wildfire burns in same area as 2003 firestorm

Kelowna - “We’re in a fire-prone ecosystem.”

On the 15th anniversary year of the firestorm that destroyed more than 240 Kelowna homes, a forestry manager for Gorman Brothers Lumber says he isn’t surprised a new fire sparked close to where the old one began in Okanagan Mountain Park.

Kerry Rouck, forestry manager for the company, said the hot temperatures and dry climate make good conditions for wildfires.

“We’re in a fire-prone ecosystem. Our ecosystems require fire to regenerate and stay healthy and we’ve excluded them for so many years and now we have buildups of fuel that wouldn’t otherwise exist,” he said.

At the time of the 2003 firestorm, Gorman Brothers had special permission to clear out dead trees affected by the Douglas fir pine beetle infestation east of the park.

Although the number of dead pine beetle trees found tapered off in 2012, with mature forests there’s an elevated fire risk, Rouck said.

The conversation around fuel management seems to happen every few years after a significant wildfire event, he said.

“In 2003, there were the big fires and there was about a three-year window that kind of tapered off and in 2009 there were more fires and there was more talk about fuel managed and with last year’s fires, fuel management becomes another hot topic for a few years. So what we’re kind of seeing is that we’re getting more of these big fire years are spaced closer together, so the awareness and drive for fuel management is consistent,” Rouck said.

The forestry company works with the regional district, First Nations groups and the province to manage wildfire fuel between cities and commercial logging sites, he said.

Gorman has been working with the Penticton Indian Band, supported by the Okanagan Nation Alliance, in order to manage forest debris, conduct ecosystem restoration and perform industrial logging, Rouck said.

“It’s cheaper to deal with it up front than to pay money to rebuild,” Rouck said.

Gorman Brothers has an active forestry site located to the east of the park.

In 2003, more than 5,000 residents were evacuated as part of the second largest evacuation in Canadian history, according to an Environment and Climate Change article.

“At the height of the fire season, 7,600 civilian firefighters and nearly 2,000 military (personnel) were fighting the blazes,” it said.

The fire eventually spread into the Upper Mission area destroying homes and then carried on into Myra Canyon where it damaged 12 Kettle Valley Railway trestles.

The 2017 wildfire season was one of the worst seasons in B.C. history, with the cost of fire suppression estimated to be more than $568 million, according to the province.

The province did not respond to requests for comment from the Capital News by press deadline Thursday afternoon.

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