After eerily similar wildfires 20 years apart, frustrated experts say advice for Kelowna is mostly the same | CBS News (2023)

After eerily similar wildfires 20 years apart, frustrated experts say advice for Kelowna is mostly the same | CBS News (1)

The Kelowna Fires: 2003 and 2023

2 days ago


An aggressive wildfire near West Kelowna, British Columbia has destroyed at least 181 properties. Twenty years ago, a similar fire destroyed more than 230 homes in the area. Experts say most of the fire prevention and mitigation recommendations are exactly the same as they were in 2003. Why hasn't more been done?

As night fell over his home in Kelowna, British Columbia, last week, Scott Sieben looked out across Okanagan Lake and saw an ominous orange glow he recognized all too well. Almost 20 years after he lost his home to a fire, another fire swept across the opposite slope, reducing dozens of homes to rubble.

Then Hisson James called.

The McDougall Creek Fire moved from the west shore of the lake toward James' home in Lake Country, about 45 kilometers north of Scott's home. James and his partner packed up and left, as did their parents in August 2003.

Two generations, two decades, two evacuations after the fire that broke out on a hot summer night in mid-August.

"I said, 'OK, great, make sure you have all the paperwork and stuff you really need and don't hesitate to come and stay here,'" Scott Sieben, 58, calmly recalled in an interview.

(Video) Preserving the U.S. Postal Service

- When he left the area where the fires were raging, we were greatly relieved.

Experts say the "uncanny" similarities between the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire and last week's McDougall Creek fire show that authorities have not done enough to prevent and mitigate wildfires over the past 20 years, again leaving B.C. helpless at a time when climate change further increases forest fires.

“It's frustrating,” said one environmentalist, “that the advice to prevent another wildfire is still the same.

WATCH | Scott Sieben talks about losing his Kelowna home in a fire in 2003:

After eerily similar wildfires 20 years apart, frustrated experts say advice for Kelowna is mostly the same | CBS News (2)

Father of two who lost home in Kelowna fire in 2003 offers advice to families going through the same

2 days ago


Scott Sieben, who lost his home in Kelowna's Kettle Valley 20 years ago, talks about the bond he built with his neighbors after surviving what was then the worst fire season in provincial history.

Experts say the fires "behaved very similarly".

Scott Sieben and his wife moved to the desirable Kettle Valley mountain neighborhood in the spring of 2003 with three-year-old James and his three-month-old sister.

"I was driving around looking for a new house ... There were a lot of swings and, you know, playgrounds, so that's when we decided this would be a great place to raise our family," Scott said.

(Video) Night

The Okanagan Mountain Park fire broke out near Rattlesnake Island on August 16, 2003. Sieben's home, which lasted less than four months, was the latest in a row to burn seven days later.

"It's something I would never wish on my worst enemy," said Sieben, who is also the principal of Mount Boucherie High School in West Kelowna.

After eerily similar wildfires 20 years apart, frustrated experts say advice for Kelowna is mostly the same | CBS News (3)

“Was it hard to lose some of the memories and some of the memories that we had, and you know, some of the things that we wanted to keep forever? Definitely yes," he added.

"But, as you know, my wife and I said, 'We're safe and our kids are safe.' And when we talked to all our neighbors, all their families were safe too. For me it's the best, the best."

James Sieben and his partner evacuated their home and stayed with their father before heading to Victoria on a pre-arranged trip. His home remained intact.

  • Kelowna residents relive stories of Okanagan Mountain Park fire on its 20th anniversary

Hundreds of miles to the west, Robert Gray watched the fire spread last week from his home in British Columbia's Fraser Valley. Gray, a 43-year-old wildfire ecologist, has seen similarities since 2003..

“Both behaved very similarly: both high intensity fires and severe fires and the effects are very similar.

“We have a very dense landscape, there's a lot of dead trees, a lot of fuel on the forest floor and that's basically what affects the fire behavior and the weather during the fire. Therefore, these landscapes have a very significant impact on the same characteristics: high density, heavy fuels, uneven terrain, steep slopes. And the weather conditions are very similar: hot, dry and windy."

The Okanagan Mountain Park Fire remains one of the most notorious wildfires in British Columbia. history: caused $200 million in damage, forced 33,000 people to evacuate their homes, and destroyed 239 homes.

The McDougall Creek Fire is smaller, but at its peak it displaced more than 10,000 people and damaged or destroyed at least181 objectsem West Kelowna, Kelowna, Westbank First Nation and neighboring areas.

Despite all the similarities, Professor Mike Flannigan said this year's fire was part of a more recent pattern.

  • How to find the latest fire news and evacuation information in BC

There are many reasons why the fire season is getting worse, but climate change is a key factor. Larger, more aggressive fires are also more likely to burn homes than decades ago, simply because there is more to burn.

"Certainly there's been more development since 2003. So there are more people in this area now and more companies than there were 20 years ago," said Flannigan, a professor at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia.

"That moment was incredible," he added. "I knew the 20th anniversary was coming, but last Thursday we saw how things unfolded and I thought, 'Holy shit... Here we are.'

(Video) Mysterious Videos I Dare You To Watch

WATCH | From 2003: A firestorm leaves Kelowna covered in wildfire smoke

After eerily similar wildfires 20 years apart, frustrated experts say advice for Kelowna is mostly the same | CBS News (4)

From the archives: Smoke from the 2003 wildfires blankets the Okanagan, British Columbia

3 years ago


The 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park Fire destroyed more than 230 homes, caused $200 million in damage and sent thick smoke into the Okanagan air.

The recommendations from 2003 should still be followed

After 2003, the British Columbia government asked former Manitoba Premier Gary Filmon to review the fire season. In its final report, Filmon made 42 recommendations, 18 of which related to fire prevention and mitigation.

The report warned that more serious fires could break out in the province in the future if authorities do not take steps to remove flammable materials such as saplings, brush and wood debris from forests near the community. It's a practice known as recommended smoking that prevents wildfires and their replacement."more frequent, well-planned and well-planned low-intensity wildfires."

In a statement from the B.C. Forest Fire Service. the province is said to have invested approximately $484 million since 2004 in a range of initiatives to reduce wildfire risk. These programs currently include programs forownersEUsocietyand Fire risk reduction on Crown Land, which includes cultural and prescribed burning.

The release said funding has increased significantly since the 2017 wildfire season.

Last year, the BC budget allocated US$145 million over three years for BC's crisis management. and B.C. The Wildfire Service is poised to begin the province's transition to a "more proactive approach" to wildfire preparedness and response.

"For the BC Fire Service, this marks a move towards year-round firefighting and risk reduction," said Finance Minister Selina Robinson B.C. legislator at the time.

After eerily similar wildfires 20 years apart, frustrated experts say advice for Kelowna is mostly the same | CBS News (5)

The ministry said the funds will be used to help firefighters strengthen their permanent staffing throughout the year, so teams can focus on all aspects of emergency management during the fire season, including prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

In another report in June, the Council of Forestry Practices notified provincial authoritiesstill needs to make a "paradigm shift" in its forest management planbecause current mitigation plans make forests "highly vulnerable" to fire. Again, this report calls for more prescribed burns.

In its statement, the B.C. Wildfire Services helped "the province is committed to expanding the safe use of cultural and recommended fire in partnership with First Nations."

The service said that in the fiscal year 2020/21. there were three such fires and that 15 of the 20 goals for 2022/2023 were met. The target for this year is 40.

Preventive spending supposedly saves money

Gray and Flannigan said governments need to spend more on prevention and mitigation, citing research that shows prevention is a worthwhile investment given the forecast of more severe weather as a result of climate change. In 2019, Public Safety Canada assessed every dollar spent on future disaster mitigationcould save approximately $6 million in future data recovery costs.

A 2018 report by the US Federal Emergency Management Agency found that Americans saved $6 for every dollar spent.

Two decades ago, Filmon agreed.

"Another area of ​​clear consensus was that focusing resources and efforts on disaster prediction, prevention and preparedness is a better investment than disaster management," Filmon wrote in his 2004 report.

"We believe governments have a unique opportunity to implement policies and legislation to reduce risk while the devastation of the 2003 Firestorm is fresh in the public mind and the costs and consequences of different choices are well understood."

After eerily similar wildfires 20 years apart, frustrated experts say advice for Kelowna is mostly the same | CBS News (6)

Both Gray and Flannigan found the aftermath of the fire painful.

“Every summer is frustrating. And not just me,” said Gray, who shared his knowledge for the Filmon report.

“We are watching another disaster unfold and we certainly hope and pray that no one is injured or killed as a result of these events and that all the damage is to homes only. I'm sorry to say 'only houses', but it's not about people," he added.

"Cream frustration leads to depression and anger. We shouldn't be in that situation again."

  • How to quickly prepare for evacuation in case of fire

Sieben said he "never" thought his son would experience a fire evacuation like his parents, let alone see such a scenario nearly 20 years later.

"It's one of those things where you realize Mother Nature is really powerful," he said.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Terence Hammes MD

Last Updated: 10/01/2023

Views: 6161

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (69 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Terence Hammes MD

Birthday: 1992-04-11

Address: Suite 408 9446 Mercy Mews, West Roxie, CT 04904

Phone: +50312511349175

Job: Product Consulting Liaison

Hobby: Jogging, Motor sports, Nordic skating, Jigsaw puzzles, Bird watching, Nordic skating, Sculpting

Introduction: My name is Terence Hammes MD, I am a inexpensive, energetic, jolly, faithful, cheerful, proud, rich person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.