Arson or accident? Investigators wonder about White Lake wildfires

Kaleden firefighters work to extinguish a wildfire which broke out on Partington Road on Saturday, August 8, 2015. A number of wildfires in the vicinity are deemed to be human caused, but so far defy explanation.

PENTICTON - An unusual number of wildfires occurring in the rural neighbourhoods of Kaleden and Willowbrook has local and B.C. Wildfire Service officials concerned.

Fire information officer Kayla Pepper says they are concerned about the fires which have occurred in the White Lake area. She says they are working with other agencies including the RCMP and the B.C. Conservation Service to determine the cause of the fires and take steps to resolve the issue.

“There are open investigations with multiple agencies, so I cannot comment any further at this time,” Pepper says in an email.

At least eight, human-caused fires of unknown origin have been sparked over a three year period in a four kilometre radius of the intersection of White Lake Road and the Fairview-White Lake Road. Most of the fires started beside the road.

Willowbrook fire chief Brad Fossett says his crews have responded to five fires over the past three years within that radius.

“Calling them suspicious would be a good word to describe them,” he says, but adds he’s aware of an issue which may provide an explanation for at least some of the fires.

“Large motorcycles with big engines and short or modified tail pipes might be causing some of these fires," he says. "Motorcyclists are touring down these back roads, pouring the coal to large displacement engines. There can be significant amounts of hot carbon coming out of those exhaust pipes. I’ve seen it.”

He says with conditions so dry all it would tak is one tiny spark to start a grassfire.

Fossett says in one of the fires, witnesses saw a group of motorcyclists stopped at the corrals near the White Lake ranch gates. Shortly after, firefighters were called to a nearby grass fire.

Dirt bikers and ATV enthusiasts who use the back roads sometimes modify their exhaust systems and remove the spark arrestor, he says.

He says the theory doesn’t explain all the fire starts. Some could be arson.

“They could also be started by someone driving around with a Bic lighter,” he says.

Kaleden fire chief Darlene Bailey agrees arson is a possibility. Her department has answered calls to three fires in the past three years which have defied explanation, all of them occurring within close proximity to each other about three kilometres north of the observatory on White Lake Road.

“Two of those fires occurred within a few hundred metres from each other, one year apart, almost to the day,” Bailey says.

In one case witnesses noticed a white pickup truck with a fifth wheel tailgate at the scene prior to the fire, she says. The fires also occurred at similar times of the day, during mid to late afternoon.

A wildfire just south of the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory on August 14 prompted a Facebook comment from a resident who claimed the driver of a white pickup with a white canopy was responsible for igniting the fire.

Bailey feels the fires are related to someone who passes through the area on a regular basis.

“We have not been able to come up with an explanation. At least we’ve never found any evidence of cause ourselves,” she says.

The B.C. Wildfire Service is interested in hearing from any one who may have information on any of the wildfires that have occurred in the White Lake area. They are asked to call the Kamloops Fire Centre at 250-554-5500.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad at or call 250-488-3065. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

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