Flames were visible on Green Mountain on Saturday evening after a controlled burn on the Penticton Indian Band apparently got out of control. Photo courtesy Chris Ostrander/Facebook

Concern over open burning in the South Okanagan

Where there’s smoke, there is firefighters

Columns of smoke rising above the Penticton Indian Band caused a spate of calls to both the Penticton and PIB fire departments.

“We receive a lot of calls on it because it is visible and significant. When the night fire happened there were a lot of people calling in,” said Larry Watkinson, Penticton fire chief.

The night fire he is referring to was a Saturday burn that appeared to be getting out of control and spreading to the trees. It was highly visible across the valley and became a major discussion on Facebook as area residents watched it grow then disappear.

“Really, it is a good time of the year to be doing this kind of burning,” said Watkinson. “They are burning off fuels that could support a rapidly developing fire in the summertime.”

Related: Prescribed burns to close Penticton channel path

Watkinson said the burning is pretty much an annual event on the PIB. But since much of it occurs on locatee (privately-owned) lands within the neighbouring community, the mutual aid agreement with the PIB fire department isn’t activated.

If a fire appears to be threatening homes Watkinson said they can respond, but otherwise it is the responsibility of PIB fire.

Related: Penticton Indian Band hosts firefighting competition

“We are still working with the Penticton Indian Band to organize a new automatic aid agreement with them, so we don’t have any jurisdiction issues,” said Watkinson, adding that there is a contract in place specifying certain areas on PIB land that Penticton Fire can respond to, like the Skaha Hills development.

Requests for comment from PIB administration were not returned by press deadline.

Area residents can also expect to see some smoke rising above the Campbell Mountain area this weekend as the Penticton Fire Department plays host to a large scale, live fire training program, with 150 firefighters coming from across the province to hone their skills for the summer fire season.

Related: Penticton Fire Department to host wildfire training symposium

“I’m pretty excited about it. It’s certainly needed in our industry,” said Watkinson, explaining they are taking steps to reassure locals about the visible smoke.

“We have two large billboard signs up in that area, and the media has covered it well,” said Watkinson. “We’ve put out releases not to be concerned about the fire on Campbell Mountain, or above the landfill primarily.”


Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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Flames were visible on Green Mountain earlier this evening after a controlled burn on the Penticton Indian Band apparently got out of control. Photo courtesy Tanya Razzano

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