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HELSTON: One tiny, burning ember can do a lot of damage

Charlotte Helston is the Vernon reporter for InfoNews.
July 03, 2015 - 8:27 AM

All of us were reminded this week how destructive fire can be, in so many different ways.

On Tuesday night, we saw how fire can take down a building in mere hours, leaving nothing but ash and rubble. It’s awe-inspiring in the most horrific way. But the physical damage is just the beginning.

When Vernon’s Ministry of Social Development office burned to the ground, it left many people in panic: Would welfare cheques come in on time? Where could people pick them up? Resources depended on by many were suddenly up in the air.

The fire also sparked fear in many who wondered if anyone was stuck inside, or if the flames might spread. Anyone paying attention to fire danger ratings across the Okanagan knows the fragile precipice we are on.

Sparks from the same blaze were carried on the wind a block away where they ignited a small fire on a rooftop. It was snuffed out in short order, but it’s a reminder not to underestimate a single, tiny ember — merely the size of a cigarette buttt — and the very real risk it contains. Fires start small, and grow exponentially. 

On Wednesday, another fire destroyed a hay barn in the North Okanagan, and beyond the immediate damages to the structure itself, the farmer's worry about feeding their many head of dairy cattle. With over $200,000 worth of hay ruined, they may now be forced to source feed from Washington or the Prairies. For many, it was just a barn that burned down, but for the owners, it was a major loss that brought with it stress, uncertainty, and insecurity.

Neither fires are considered suspicious, but they do demonstrate just how much can be lost in a fire, both material and emotional. And as if dealing with accidental fires isn’t enough, we have others caused by stupidity, carelessness and disregard for others. 

Several suspicious fires in Vernon parks over the past month are under investigation, as well as a torched car, believed to be arson. Another fire is believed to have been started by people setting off flare guns in Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, and police have, in a separate incident in the same park, arrested a man for arson.

Fire can be so many wonderful things — campfires, warm fireplaces, even a tool in preventing wildfires — but only if we respect it. It will always hold a dangerous element, and of course, accidents will happen. But of more than 17 fires in the Okanagan over the past month — including wildfires, house fires, car fires, boat fires, and dumpster fires — at least nine are considered suspicious, and that’s far too many.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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