|Smoke looms over Peachland in September as traffic backs up on Highway 97, which was blocked for hours during the fire fight.|
In a little more than an hour on Sept. 9, a vicious wildfire swept three kilometres down the narrow Trepanier Creek valley resulting in the panicked evacuation of 1,550 residents from almost 900 homes - one-third of the town, which is surrounded on three sides by
forest. Four homes were destroyed - though hundreds were threatened.
The 200-hectare blaze also highlighted the shortcomings of fire jurisdictions since it started outside the boundaries
of the Peachland Fire Department and under the provincial wildfire branch's purview.
The initial flames were spotted at the Trepanier Road interchange at 3 p.m. on Sept. 9 by an RCMP member monitoring motorist speeds on the Okanagan Connector. Radio transmissions showed Peachland firefighters weren't initially dispatched and RCMP members on
the scene became concerned by the
perceived slow arrival of provincial
Winds as high as 60 km/h quickly pushed the flames from a 15-by-15-metre area into an unpredictable wildfire that raced at 30 to 40 metres a minute as more than 100 motorists watched from the side of the connector.
RCMP members then raced from house to house alerting residents who only had minutes to grab valuables and abandon their homes.
Fortunately, fuel mitigation on Peachland's golf course prevented flames from heading south so five provincial helicopters, seven air tankers, two smaller air tractors and two bird dogs directing them could focus on the leading edges.
By Monday (Sept. 10), 85 firefighters and 17 firetrucks from Peachland, West Kelowna, Summerland, Penticton, Kelowna, Ellison, Joe Rich, Lake Country and North Westside fire departments were in action inside Peachland's municipal limits.
Another 70 provincial firefighters, six helicopters and air tankers focused their efforts outside Peachland on steep, rugged Pincushion Mountain to the south. By the end of the day, the wildfire was 75 per cent contained.
Peachland Elementary was closed on Monday and its 227 students, plus staff, went to George Pringle Elementary on Tuesday. They were allowed to return to their Clements Crescent school on Wednesday.
The last evacuation order was lifted at 5 p.m. on Wednesday as containment reached 95 per cent and the final 258 Peachland residents were allowed to return home.
Firefighters had 100 per cent containment by the end of the day on Thursday, but the evacuation alert remained in effect for several more days as hot spots were identified by infrared scanners and extinguished one by one.
Provincial authorities promised a full review of the timeline and response after the radio transmissions were revealed, but there was never any public release of the results from that investigation.