Only a few patches of green remain in scorched vineyard following the 2012 Trepanier Valley wildfire.

JUDIE STEEVES Be prepared for wildfire

Newly-produced guide aimed at helping orchard and vineyard operators plan for the worst.

By Judie Steeves P

uffs of fine ash picked up by the breeze were the only movement in the blackened vineyard after wildfire the day before had whirled into the army of well-tended vines marching over the hills, from the nearby forest. Flames, fueled by high winds, engulfed it—despite the green leaves and lush fruit on the vines and regular irrigation. While there haven’t been many instances yet of farm operations in the Okanagan hit by wildfire roaring in from adjacent forest or grassland, there have been some, and it can be devastating.

In the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire that destroyed 236 high- end Kelowna homes, that number included the home of Leo and Barbara Gebert, co-owners with their siblings of St. Hubertus and Oak Bay Estate Winery, which was also burned. In the capricious, wind-fed


conflagration, patches of vines were also turned into cinders, creating gaps in the straight rows of soldierly vines where newly-planted vines will never catch up to their neighbours.

Nine years later, across Okanagan Lake, another wildfire was sparked in the Trepanier Valley, above Hainle Vineyards, on a plateau above Okanagan Lake. Like many, it was planted adjacent to the forest, as well as a residential subdivision.

On that dry September day, four homes and part of the nearby vineyard at Hainle were destroyed.

In May this year, an early start to the regular wildfire season began with an evacuation of Mission Hill Family Estate Winery in West Kelowna, due to a grass fire that began off Boucherie Road down a steep hillside from the winery.

As is common, an evening breeze fanned the flames and caused the fire to rage ahead of intermittent gusts of wind up towards the multi-million dollar winery and its adjacent vineyards. More than 50 nearby homes were also evacuated with just minutes of warning. Dozens of firefighters and equipment from surrounding fire departments got the blaze confined within hours and people were able to return to their homes, but it was a wake-up call for


In a bid to prevent devastation caused by raging wildfires, the B.C. Agriculture and Food Climate Action Initiative, funded by senior governments, has created the Okanagan Wildfire Preparedness and Mitigation Workbook and Guide to help farmers reduce the impact of wildfire on their operations and to plan for the possibility that wildfire may one day threaten their orchard or vineyard. Harmony Bjarnason, regional project manager for the B.C. Ag Climate Action Initiative, coordinated the project and says the guide was prepared in consultation with industry, designed for producers, who can adapt it to align with what works for them.

By its very nature, since the guide is about dealing with emergency situations, flexibility and resourcefulness are key, but by completing the workbook, farm operators will already be better prepared to deal with an emergency when it happens.

Bjarnason notes that producers have responded well to the documents, noting they highlight a lot of things they hadn’t considered.

A big issue for the season when wildfires generally occur, is pickers or visitors on the farm, she notes.

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Summer 2018

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