The Skaha Creek wildfire started Saturday around 2 p.m. on Penticton Indian band (PIB) land west of the Penticton airport on syilx territory, according to PIB Chief Greg Gabriel.
Gabriel tells IndigiNews that the band’s fire department and guardian program are working separately but in collaboration with the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) to fight the fire.
“The band itself has commissioned Westhills Aggregates’ equipment to go up and build a fireguard a few kilometres below the fire line. So it’s separate from the activities of the actual fire,” says Gabriel.
“It’s a precautionary measure we’ve taken on our own to help alleviate a lot of the concern and panic from a lot of our community members.”
Roslyn Johnson is the fire information officer for BCWS. She says the Skaha Creek wildfire is believed to be human-caused and as of early this afternoon it had spread over about212 hectares.
At time of publication, there are no evacuation orders in place because according to Johnson the fire is not yet considered a threat to the community.
“We had a bird dog in the air this morning, which is the plane that goes up ahead of the larger fixed-wing aircraft, assessing whether it’s safe for them to work,” says Johnson.
“Currently, there are 53 personnel on the ground, and 13 arriving later today, with heavy equipment working on the west and north flank.”
There are two heavy-lift helicopters and two additional helicopters responding to the fire, and air tankers are dropping fire retardant, she tells IndigiNews.
According to Johnson, fire crews will focus their efforts on the east flank of the fire, which is closest to the Skaha Hills residential development.
Homes and structures remain unaffected at this time. However, flames are visible from the city of Penticton, and the fire is currently classified by BCWS as out of control.
Environment Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Environment issued a special air quality statement this morning for the Okanagan Valley due to wildfire smoke.
“Wildfire smoke is a constantly-changing mixture of particles and gases which includes many chemicals that can harm your health,” warns the statement.
“Stay inside if you have breathing difficulties. Find an indoor place that’s cool and ventilated. Using an air conditioner that cools and filters air may help. If you open the windows you may let in more polluted air. If your home isn’t air-conditioned, consider going to a public place (library, shopping mall, recreation centre) that is air-conditioned.”
The Penticton Indian Band Emergency Operations Centre will be posting updates on its Facebook page while they continue to monitor the situation.
“I feel good. Everything’s in good hands right now. I’m hoping we can make some good major progress on the fire today, and I think we will, and we will keep updating the community,” says Gabriel.