Family members of a Kelowna firefighter who had his truck stolen while fighting the Christie Mountain wildfire are hoping the community will show their support by donating to a GoFundMe set up in his honour.
After spending a week battling the blaze, Connor Callaghan returned home to Merritt, where he’s been stationed with BC Wildfire Service since May, to find his 2003 Toyota Tundra gone.
Since Callaghan had been living out of the truck, he was also missing all of his personal belongings, including camping gear, a laptop, iPad and school bag for his mechanical engineering studies at university.
Now his sisters Sarah and Gillian Callaghan have jumped into action to set up a GoFundMe page for the firefighter, in hopes the community will rally around him at this difficult time.
“This truck had been his home the past two summers while he fought wildfires in BC and Alberta,” the sisters wrote on the GoFundMe page.
“The truck has been in our family for 17 years, our dad bought it new in 2003 and sold it to our brother in 2017. Together they have accumulated over 670,000km on the truck, maintaining it was something Connor and our dad liked to do together.
“Connor held the truck close to his heart and we don’t think any amount of money could replace the truck’s sentimental value. In case anyone has seen, or sees the truck in the Lower Mainland please notify the police.”
The truck is a navy blue 2003 Toyota Tundra with the license plate JY3181. The tailgate is grey, and the vehicle has a canopy and Thule bike rack on the back. It currently does not have the ski box shown in the picture.
If you have any information about the theft or see the vehicle, please contact your local police.
To visit the GoFundMe page, click here.
Residents of the South Okanagan and East Kootenay regions are being warned by the BC government that air quality may not be good for the next 24-48 hours due to forest fires.
In the South Okanagan, Christie Mountain and multiple wildfires south of the border in Washington State continue to put up smoke.
The East Kootenays are experiencing smoke from the Doctor Creek wildfire near Canal Flats.
And as of Sunday afternoon, Interior Health has its eye on the Talbot Creek wildfire near Castlegar in the Slocan Valley.
“As the wildfire develops, Interior Health is ensuring any potentially impacted home health clients are prepared in the event of evacuation. We are also proactively reaching out to the private Passmore Lodge senior’s residence to ensure they have safe evacuation plans in place if necessary,” reads an information release from Interior Health.
“We have activated an IH-wide emergency operations centre which is monitoring all wildfire threats to health facilities and services and we are working closely with municipalities, regional districts, and the BC WildFire Service to ensure precautions are underway to protect patients, clients, and residents.”
Talbot Creek wildfire has 77 crew members responding north of Castlegar.
A new wildfire burning near Castlegar has been labelled a “wildfire of note” by BC Wildfire Service, joining Christie Mountain and Doctor Creek in that designation.
As of 1:45 p.m. Sunday, the Talbot Creek fire, burning 3.5 kilometres northwest of Highway 6 and 30 kilometres north of Castlegar was estimated at 200 hectares and had 77 firefighters plus eight heavy equipment responding.
“Ground crews are responding along with heavy equipment to establish control lines. Nine aviation resources are in the area and are being utilized as required. Helicopters are focusing on the south and east flanks of the fire. Additional fire guard starting on the slope above Vallican,” reads information from BCWS.
The fire, which was caused by lightning, is highly visible from the Slocan Valley and surrounding communities and is listed as an interface fire.
UPDATE: 2:30 p.m.
BC Wildfire Service says 170 crew members, 16 helicopters and eight pieces of heavy equipment are fighting the Christie Mountain wildfire Sunday.
“Fire behaviour has somewhat increased, but they continue to make great progress,” reads an update.
The estimated size is still at 2,035 hectares.
“Crews continue to reinforce control lines at Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park and are looking for potential areas for small burn out opportunities. They continue to make great progress on the southwest flank of the fire building and strengthening control lines for values protection.”
A smoky sky warning from Interior Health continues to be in place for the region for the next 24 to 48 hours.
UPDATE: 12:40 p.m.
Residents of 3,669 properties in the City of Penticton are still on evacuation alert as fire crews with the structural protection branch work to get them ready for the alert to be lifted, the goal right now being keeping areas with structures cool and wet.
Penticton fire chief Larry Watkinson said crews are still very active in the fire grounds and using heavy bucketing throughout the community from large aircraft, adding that the threat to homes and businesses right now is “pretty limited.”
“We did a lot of work in advance, we raised the humidity around these homes and we haven’t seen any other ignitions other than small brushes that we’ve been able to clean up. In fact, there have been fires burned right up to the lines we’ve established that have not ignited the structures.”
That said, Watkinson said the fire is still considered out of control, and spreading in all directions. As for when evacuation alert and orders might be lifted, more information will come in the next few days.
“Until I’m satisfied that we’ve met the objectives and established lines that really do control those measures from those ember transplants and we’ve hardened the homes and fire-smarted them to the point of where we can allow residents back in is when we will decide,” Watkinson said. “Unlikely tonight.”
He explained that activity on the southeast end of the fire, heading into the wilderness, is “testing new terrain.”
“We know that when it gets into heavy timbers we’re going to see more heavy fire behaviour,” he said, with yet more added struggles for on-the-ground crews.
“It’s rocky, there’s rattlesnakes, it’s really, really difficult terrain to work with.”
While Watkinson urged those under evacuation alert to stay vigilant and not breathe a sigh of relief just yet, Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki said what he has been hearing from constituents has been positive.
“The stress level has gone down about tenfold,” Vassilaki sad. “You don’t know how pleased all the folks are that the BC Wildfire people are doing such a good job.”
With roughly 3,700 properties still on evacuation alert and hotel rooms in short supply during a popular time of year for tourists, Vassilaki said he won’t be asking tourists to stay clear in case the hotels are needed by more evacuees.
“I wouldn’t want to be a heavy handed mayor in this situation. Tourists have a right to be here as they always have … we’ve had other times when the situation was bad, we’ve never asked [tourists] to leave,” Vassilaki said.
“There is no other place for them to go where they can really come and have a holiday, get out of their homes where they’ve been locked up for the last two or three months. They’re just as much influenced by what’s happening here as we are, they need their freedom, to go out there and enjoy their lives.”
Another update will be provided by the City of Penticton, BC Wildfire and the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen at noon Monday.
UPDATE: 11 a.m.
The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen emergency operations team is working hard to get people back into their homes in the evacuation order zone as soon as it safe, according to board chair Karla Kozakevich.
“I know people really want to get back in there and some people are really upset, understandably,” Kozakevich said.
But the RDOS has to wait for thorough assessments from BC Wildfire, and ensure the influx of traffic would not impact ongoing firefighting work.
Plans are in the works for a solid update on Monday, and while Kozakevich hopes to be able to lift the evacuation order to an alert, that decision would be made only with the most careful consideration that the fire danger has passed for good.
“The worst thing would be to have everyone go back in and have to come back out again.”
Currently, 319 RDOS properties are on evacuation order and more than 100 Upper Carmi residents on alert. The City of Penticton has 3,669 properties on alert, and an update on those alerts will be livestreamed on Castanet at noon today.
UPDATE: 10:40 a.m.
The Christie Mountain wildfire saw minimal activity overnight, with BC Wildfire estimating it still at 2,035 hectares.
“The atmosphere was stable on site of the fire yesterday. Fire behaviour was minimal for most of the day yesterday, but started to increase on the southeast flank,” reads an information update from BC Wildfire Service Sunday morning.
“The fire is burning in difficult rocky and sloped terrain with limited access points for ground crews and heavy equipment.”
The cause of the fire is still unknown and an investigation continues.
UPDATE: 10:15 a.m.
The City of Penticton has announced a surprise press briefing at noon Sunday.
In a notice sent to media, they indicate the event will provide an update on the 3,669 homes under evacuation alert within city boundaries right now.
There have been no updates so far Sunday from BC Wildfire as to the size and status of the fire, and there is no joint press conference between BCWS, the city and the regional district scheduled.
Castanet will have the City of Penticton briefing live here at noon.
ORIGINAL: 9:30 a.m.
Some promising news from the area of the Christie Mountain wildfire as Painted Rock Estate Winery, which had a scare earlier in the week, reopens Sunday by appointment only.
Owner John Skinner told Glacier Media Thursday the blaze was just about a kilometre from their vineyard.
Efforts of fire crews throughout the week led to the winery having no imminent threat from the flames by Friday, but as their location on Smythe Drive was a key access point for emergency crews, they remained closed.
The winery explained on Twitter that as of Sunday, emergency crew traffic has become manageable enough that some guests can be welcomed.
They will not be welcoming walk-ins, only pre-booked appointments.
“This request was made by the emergency response teams in order to keep traffic to a minimum and prioritize emergency vehicles,” reads a statement.
The Christie Mountain wildfire is burning at 2,035 hectares as of last update and all evacuation alerts and orders are still in place.
Castanet is awaiting an update from BC Wildfire Service and will have updates throughout the day as more information becomes available.
Castanet Staff – Aug 23, 2020 / 6:37 am | Story: 308650
UPDATE: 6:35 a.m.
With stable weather Saturday, fire behaviour at the Christie Mountain wildfire on the outskirts of Penticton was minimal for most of the day.
Forty firefighters remained on scene overnight, with support from multiple fire departments and structure protection personnel.
Meanwhile, the BC Wildfire Service tweeted its thanks to residents of the area Saturday night for their continued support for firefighting efforts, and their diligence in adhering to evacuation alerts, orders and area restrictions.
An aerial track of the fire adjusted its size to approximately 2,035 hectares. Video showed minimal fire behaviour and limited growth over the last few days.
Crews continued to build upon progress on the southwest flank, strengthening control lines and reinforcing those at Skaha Provincial Park.
An aerial track was completed of the Christie Mountain (K51287) wildfire, it is now approximately 2,035 ha in size. This video was taken looking west over #Penticton from within the fire perimeter. Minimal fire behavior has limited growth over the last few days. pic.twitter.com/DJueewbZ8Y
— BC Wildfire Service (@BCGovFireInfo) August 23, 2020
UPDATE: 8:30 p.m.
The Christie Mountain wildfire was not very active Saturday as winds died down considerably from those experienced Friday.
According to the latest information from the BC Wildfire Service, “the atmosphere was stable…and fire activity was minimal for most of the day.”
However, fire activity has begun to increase on the fire’s southern flank.
“The fire is burning in difficult rocky and sloped terrain with limited access points for ground crews and heavy equipment,” officials said in their latest update.
Two hundred BCWS firefighters were working on site in conjunction with structure protection personnel and multiple fire departments.
They were aided by 16 helicopters and six water tenders.
“The aviation fleet has been doing an excellent job at holding the fire and buying us time to follow up with crews.”
All evacuation orders and alerts remain in place, as does an area restriction notice for areas around the fire.
UPDATE: 5:50 p.m.
The BC Wildfire Service has updated the mapping of the Christie Mountain wildfire.
According to new information, the fire is now estimated at 2,025 hectares in size.
The fire has grown only 35 hectares, despite strong southerly winds Friday.
According to the latest information, 200 firefighters have been working on the fire in conjunction with structure protection personnel and multiple fire departments.
Sixteen helicopters and six water tenders are providing support.
Crews will continue to reinforce control lines at Skaha Provincial Park and will be looking for potential areas for small burn out opportunities. They made great progress on the southwest flank of the fire building and strengthening control lines for values protection.
BCWS will continue to closely monitor trigger points throughout the day.
UPDATE 1 p.m.
Despite harrowing wind Friday, work by ground and air crews, as well as reduced fuels from the 1994 Garnet wildfire, prevented significant growth of the Christie Mountain wildfire towards Penticton.
But with shifting winds now pushing the fire south, officials are maintaining the evacuation order of Heritage Hills until crews can get control of that flank of the fire, as it creeps towards unburned fuel.
“We haven’t lifted the [evacuation] order because we haven’t felt 100 per cent comfortable yet, and when we do, we will. We don’t want to be premature on this,” Dan Taudin-Chabot, operations section chief of the BC Wildfire Service, told a news conference Saturday.
“The combination of our aviation fleet and our ground crews has really slowed down the fire growth,” he said. “The other thing that has been in our favour, the fire was actually running into the old Garnet fire from ’94, so that has taken a bit of the steam out, or the fuels out.
“Now we are getting winds pushing on the fire in a direction that we haven’t seen yet. So for us, it’s really important that we gain and establish control, with the winds pushing the other direction before we make any decisions.”
Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson said 61 pieces of staffed equipment and 143 firefighters from across the province worked to defend the city Friday, deploying wetlines and conducting patrols in at-risk neighbourhoods.
“Those 61 pieces of fire apparatus certainty did impact our community and the residents were very appreciative of that, as I know from the comments that I’ve received,” he said.
Fifty-five of those pieces of equipment and roughly 110 firefighters were sent back to their communities this morning.
“What we’ve gathered, and the intelligence that we’ve received from the BC Wildfire Service… we feel very confident that the fire is no longer threatening structures, adjacent to the fire, in the City of Penticton,” Watkinson said, adding his crews are still working to protect structures within the RDOS.
Watkinson gave a massive thank you to the other fire departments that sent crews and equipment to protect the city. He credited the provincial coordination of crews as a key difference between the Christie Mountain fire and the Garnet fire of 1994 that destroyed 18 homes.
Penticton city manager Donny Van Dyk said he expects the evacuation alert in city limits to remain in place for a few more days.
Mayor John Vassilaki urged residents in the evacuation alert area to keep their bags packed for the time being.
ORIGINAL 9 a.m.
The sky is blue this morning in Penticton as crews regroup after a night fighting the Christie Mountain wildfire.
The BC Wildfire Service says, despite Friday’s high winds, the blaze has seen minimal fire activity over the last 24 hours and has grown just 35 hectares.
The fire is still estimated in size as 2,000 hectares, but that figure will be updated today.
“The size that has been reported has always been an estimate since it has been difficult to track this fire from the ground due to terrain,” BCWS said. “We are working to get a more accurate track this morning and an official size will be updated at that point.”
It is expected BCWS will speak with media alongside the City of Penticton and RDOS at a noon press conference that will be live streamed on Castanet.
Two-hundred provincial firefighters will work the blaze Saturday in conjunction with structure protection personnel and fire departments from across B.C.
“They will continue to build upon their progress on the southwest flank of the fire, strengthening control lines for values protection with support from 16 helicopters and six water tenders,” BCWS said.
Trigger points will continue to be monitored throughout the day.
Winds have been calm Saturday morning, blowing from the north at between 5-13 km/h. Environment Canada is expecting winds from the north for the rest of the day at 10-15 km/h with a high of 28 C.
While the skies are blue, Environment Canada reissued a smoky skies bulletin for the South Okanagan, advising residents the area will continue to see smoke for the next 24-48 hours.
Opie the pig needs your help.
Critteraid is asking for donations to their bottle drive to help feed their farm animals, including their resident pigs. The organization relies on public donations and support to keep going.
“The bottle drive is ongoing, large donations can be picked up by them or people can arrange a time to bring bottles up to the farm and maybe see some piggies,” Critteraid animal director Jess Byer said.
Since COVID-19 protocols are in place, many of the organization’s usual fundraisers are not up and running, but their bottle drive is always open.
“We’re so thankful from the public for their support and we would like to just encourage more help with returning your empties back to the animals here at Critteraid.”
Email at [email protected] or check out their website to find out more information
Photo: U-Haul Canada website
U-Haul is offering 30 days of free self-storage to residents affected by the recent wildfires in the Penticton area.
As residents have been asked to evacuate due to high winds increasing the threat to homes, evacuees are invited to bring any items to U-Haul’s safe space nearby.
“The shifting winds are creating a hazardous situation for residents,” U-Haul Company of British Columbia president, Horace Martin said in a press release. “We have a self-storage facility just 45 minutes away. Evacuees are welcome to visit us and store their belongings at a secure location.”
Victims of the fire are offered access to a free storage unit in various sizes depending on availability. No contract or purchase necessary.
People seeking more information about the U-Haul disaster relief program or needing to arrange 30 days of free self-storage should call U-Haul Moving and Storage of West Kelowna at 778-741-0141.
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