Trudeau in Okanagan to meet firefighters, as final travel ban lifted for Kelowna area

Trudeau in Okanagan to meet firefighters, as final travel ban lifted for Kelowna area
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks over a map outlining the McDougall Creek wildfire with Loyal Wooldridge, chair of the Regional District Central Okanagan, as his daughter Ella-Grace looks on in West Kelowna, B.C., Friday, Aug. 25, 2023.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s heard “extraordinary stories of heroism” as he tours the Okanagan region in the B.C. Interior to meet with firefighters, volunteers and officials involved in the area’s battle against devastating wildfires.

He says such events will become more frequent in a warming world and insurance will likely become more difficult to obtain.

Trudeau, who met local fire chiefs and firefighters at a firehall in West Kelowna, says lessons need to be learned about how to build safely.

He says conversations are also needed about better forest management.

Trudeau’s visit comes after the last travel restriction for the Okanagan was lifted, alongside evacuation orders within the City of Kelowna, following recent rainfall.

B.C. Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma said in a statement late Thursday that travel restrictions to West Kelowna were to be lifted as of midnight.

The ban for Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon and Kamloops was lifted earlier this week after being placed over much of the region on Aug. 19 to ensure there were accommodations for evacuees and emergency personnel.

The Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre has downgraded all orders within Kelowna, as well as those for some homes in West Kelowna Estates and more than 300 properties in the District of Lake Country, to alert status.

However, officials say evacuation orders are still in effect in parts of West Kelowna, Westbank First Nation and Lake Country.

Trudeau started the day at the First Nation’s offices, discussing the firefighting operation with Loyal Wooldridge, who is board chair of the Central Okanagan Regional District.

Trudeau met with Chief Robert Louie, as well as West Kelowna Mayor Gord Milsom and Kelowna Mayor Tom Dyas. He asked officials about the morale of residents.

Almost 200 homes were lost or damaged around Lake Okanagan in the past week.

Two major blazes are being held by firefighters, but the McDougall Creek fire threatening West Kelowna remains out of control.

The BC Wildfire Service has said that the Bush Creek East fire in the Shuswap area north of Lake Okanagan is now the focus of the province’s wildfire battle.

Wildfires continue to rage in other parts of British Columbia, including the Stein Mountain blaze near Lytton now at close to 33 square kilometres in size.

The growing fire forced the Thompson-Nicola Regional District to expand its evacuation order to two additional properties in Blue Sky Country north of Lytton Thursday afternoon.

The regional district was able to rescind evacuation orders for 38 properties adjacent to the Ross Moore Lake wildfire south of Kamloops at around the same time.

In Metro Vancouver, the regional district has issued an air-quality advisory due to high concentrations of fine particulates, mostly due to the fires burning across B.C. and Washington state.

It says the advisory, which also covers parts of the Fraser Valley, will remain in effect until further notice.

There are currently around 370 active wildfires across the province, with about 150 classified as out of control and 14 qualified as fires of note for their visibility and threat to populated areas.

To date, wildfires have scorched almost 18,000 square kilometres of land in British Columbia, with 71 per cent of the fires caused by lightning and 23 per cent triggered by human activity.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2023.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian PressDirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Recent Stories

Send us your news tips and videos!