Fire near Kelowna, B.C., claims two historic railway trestles, threatens more
KELOWNA, B.C. (CP) - The resurgent Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire near here has claimed two historic railway trestle bridges and threatens the other 16, officials said Thursday.
The fire, which forced 3,200 people to flee their homes, some the second time, consumed two bridges on the 90-year-old Kettle Valley Railway line running through Myra Canyon, an internationally popular hiking and cycling route.
Two of the other trestles along the 15-kilometre section of line southeast of Kelowna were also damaged. Most of the bridges are made of creosote-soaked timber and the other two are steel with wooden decks.
Fire crews were taking every precaution to protect homes once again in the path of the fire, said Karen Cairns of the Kelowna emergency operations centre.
"They're applying what they call a barricade gel to those homes and once again we're at the mercy of the wind," she said.
Driven by rising winds, the 2Ĺ-week-old fire grew by 17 square kilometres overnight to a total of 228 square kilometres and forecasts called for winds of up to 35 kilometres an hour.
"We're kind of fearing the worst," Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray said. "The fire probably will head east, which of course may take out more of the Kettle Valley historic railway."
The railway line, which took six years to complete after construction started in 1910, spanned some of the most challenging mountainous terrain in British Columbia.
Canadian Pacific Railway closed it in the 1960s but volunteers restored the decaying, trackless trestles in the 1990s. They installed guardrails and laid planking on the ties to make them safe for hikers and cyclists.
The line now attracts thousands of visitors a year and is a major source of tourism revenue for the nearby town of Naramata.
In a small-scale replay of what happened about two weeks ago, residents of threatened Kelowna suburbs were ordered out on short notice Wednesday night.
B.C. Forest Service spokesman Kirk Hughes said the June Springs, Joe Rich and Gallagher's Canyon areas north and east of the fire were most affected. The fire was still several kilometres from any homes and its progress appeared to slow during the evening as it moved southeast.
Fire crews were also mopping up hot spots in the Crawford Estates area, one of the suburbs where more than 230 homes were destroyed earlier this month.
Fire information officer Kevin Matuga said the fire's behaviour Wednesday was very similar to conditions that forced 30,000 to flee Aug. 21-22.
"It's just extreme fire behaviour, with the kind of conditions we have, the dryness of the fuels," he said. "Once again we're just getting those afternoon winds and with these conditions we're just seeing some very volatile fire behaviour."
Matuga said it will be hard to save the remaining Kettle Valley Railway trestles if the fire continues to act so aggressively.
For some, it was the second evacuation in just over two weeks.
Kyle Grant's family was ordered out Aug. 21 and lived at a hotel for a week before being allowed back home. On Wednesday night, the Grants found themselves back in the same hotel room.
"The stress level has been pretty high," Grant said. "My mom was very, very upset. My father is desperately trying to get back to Kelowna from Edmonton."
Some 1,300 evacuees checked in at a recreation centre in Kelowna and will be put up in hotels if necessary, while others were staying with friends and relatives.
Officials also issued an evacuation order late Wednesday night to residents in the McGillivray Lake area east of Kamloops after high winds and dry conditions caused a blaze to jump fireguards.
An evacuation alert was also issued for the resort village of Sun Peaks and surrounding properties because of the McGillivray fire, which forced residents of the town of Pritchard to flee earlier this month.
The 96-square-kilometre McGillivray fire remains a concern, Matuga said.
"We need to re-establish those control lines in anticipation of the winds that are forecasted for this area," he said.
Winds also threaten to derail the progress crews have made on the month-old McLure-Barriere fire, which forced thousands from their homes and destroyed the village of Louis Creek.
"We've got it 95 per cent contained," said Matuga. "But (with) 65-km/h forecasted wind gusts we're expecting our lines to be challenged today."
Meanwhile, a fire creeping towards a town north of Creston almost tripled overnight to nearly 28 square kilometres.
The Kuskonook fire was moving east toward Kootenay Lake and 90 more firefighters were expected to join the 60 already fighting the fire. Fire information officer Jeff Green said the blaze was two kilometres away from the nearest structure.
Meanwhile, the Lamb Creek fire near Cranbrook, which was threatening homes south of the city, remained manageable at nearly 110 square kilometres.
Fire information officer Jeff Green said crews were very successful in quelling new spot fires as they broke out.
"However there is concern with the weather," he said. "We will be watching the lightning maps very closely."
In all, there were 687 fires burning in the province.
The Canadian Press, 2003
09/4/2003 16:11 EST
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09-04-2003, 09:19 PM #1
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Volatile Fire Behaviour, Kelowna & Kamloops Evacuations, Historic BC Railway Burned
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