Kelowna may not be here in 10 years

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A photo of Lytton, BC, the small village that was nearly decimated in a 2021 wildfire.
What is happening in Canada gives the phrase “burning out” a dark meaning. Alistair Vigier

B.C. is burning

by alistair vigier, contributor

Amidst the recent devastation in Lahaina, Maui, coupled with evacuation directives in Yellowknife and Kelowna, one can’t help but wonder: will Kelowna still stand a decade from now? 

First and foremost, my deepest sympathies extend to those impacted by these wildfires. However, as an avid enthusiast of data and statistics, I’m compelled to delve into potential future scenarios. What’s happening in Kelowna isn’t an isolated incident.  

The world watched as Lahaina, Maui was destroyed. Climate change and its undeniable influence on these catastrophic events compound the urgency. Global warming-intensified wildfires not only devastate our lush forests but also consume homes and businesses, spewing a lethal cocktail of toxins into the air we all share. 

Kelowna is a beautiful place, but as recent years have shown that serenity is under threat, primarily from the unyielding force of wildfires. There have been 1964 fires this year in BC, with 388 still active as of August 28, 2023. 

If we assess the patterns, the alarming increase in their frequency and intensity suggests that Kelowna may not be here in just a decade. It’s a bold claim to make, but one that we must confront.  

Kelowna’s days may be numbered amid rising wildfire threats 

It’s no secret that wildfires have always been a part of Kelowna’s reality, but there’s a tangible shift.  

The B.C. Wildfire Service has said that the current blaze, initially measured at 1,100 hectares on the evening of August 24, has now expanded to a staggering 6,800 hectares

These fires are no longer rare occurrences or minor annoyances; they have become massive events that leave destruction in their wake. Every summer, the skies turn an eerie orange, residents anxiously track fire maps, and countless homes are lost. The air, thick with smoke, serves as a constant reminder of the impending threat. 

While these fires rage, a lurking danger compounds the risks – winds. A combination of high winds and wildfires would spell disaster for Kelowna. Imagine a day when powerful gusts carry embers across large distances, allowing fires to jump barriers and ignite new areas almost instantly.  

Firefighters, as dedicated and skilled as they are, can only do so much against such an unpredictable and fast-moving enemy. Even with firefighters coming to help Canada from around the world, it’s no match for mother nature – this summer has demonstrated that clearly. 

Why this hypothetical situation is growing in probability 

All it takes is one event of the wind and fire mixing together, and Kelowna could be gone within 24 hours. Let’s not forget what happened in 2021 in Lytton, B.C.; it’s no longer there. 

In the past, policies focused on rapidly extinguishing wildfires. While well-intentioned and initially impactful, this approach allowed underbrush to accumulate, creating a dense layer of potential fuel. When fires do ignite, they burn hotter and spread faster. 

We’ve seen the devastating impact of wind-driven fires elsewhere. Towns like Lahaina have been practically wiped off the map overnight, with residents having mere minutes to evacuate. The parallels between Kelowna’s situation and that of Yellowknife, Lytton, and Maui are hard to ignore. 

Predicting the exact fate of any city is an inexact science. But if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that we must prepare for the worst. Denial or hoping for the best is no longer an option. It’s time for a hard, collective introspection. 

My heart goes out to the victims of wildfires.  

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