Insulated shelters intended for use by Kelowna’s homeless have arrived in the city, just in time for what meteorologists are predicting will be a Mars-like polar vortex that is likely heading for Canada at the end of the month.

The problem now is how best to use the limited number of shelters and what outdoor temperature will trigger their use.

Earlier this week, the Kelowna Fire Department responded to a fire that destroyed a tent in the homeless encampment along the Okanagan Rail Trail in the city’s North End.

The cause of the fire Wednesday night has not been confirmed but the Kelowna Fire Department has responded to so-called “warming fires” up and down the rail trail this winter.

“We’re in the final phases of working through the operational details and we’re confident that we will be ready when the next major cold snap occurs. There have been meetings daily over the course of the last four business days,” said Darren Caul, the City of Kelowna’s safety officer on Thursday.

“Every time that we are introducing a new initiative, and this is a pilot initiative, there are a lot of considerations, particularly when working with a complex population. Particularly in this situation given the fact that we have a very finite number of these.”

There were just 27 of the specialized shelters available in the country – 20 singles and seven doubles, an innovative model that was tested last winter in Quebec, he noted.

“There are lots of different ideas and lots of considerations in terms of how you distribute them, who distributes them, what are the terms and conditions of distribution and collection and storage,” he said. “These things are not as simple as you get this resource and you distribute them and walk away.”

Forecasts on The Weather Network are predicting colder-than-normal temperatures for the month of February in B.C., the Prairies, Northwest Territories, the Yukon and parts of Ontario.

A polar vortex, drifting over Siberia in Northern Russia, has generated the coldest temperature of the year, eclipsing -62 C on Jan. 14, around the average temperature on Mars and freezing exposed skin in seconds.

The newly-arrived shelters were procured during the extreme cold weather that hit western Canada just before Christmas but are only arriving now.

Shipping the shelters from Quebec during the busy Christmas holidays proved a challenge, Caul said, but if the pilot is successful, the city has the ability to buy more.

The individualized and double-sized insulated shelters are manufactured in France. They don’t come equipped with a heat source but rely on body temperature, he explained.

“We hope that these will prevent the risky use of warming devices that we’re seeing in other models. These are fire-resistant,” said Caul. “There are holes in them for ventilation and they’re designed in a manner that an individual could get out in less than two seconds, one second.”