‘Life and death situation': Mayor concerned as wildfire threatens only hydro transmission line into West Kelowna | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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‘Life and death situation': Mayor concerned as wildfire threatens only hydro transmission line into West Kelowna

The Brenda Creek wildfire, July 14, 2021.
Image Credit: B.C. Wildfire Service
July 16, 2021 - 3:36 PM

West Kelowna’s mayor is concerned a single transmission line supplying electricity to the entire city could be impacted by the Brenda Creek wildfire.

West Kelowna, Peachland and other surrounding communities have had an issue with a single power line supplying electricity to the area’s roughly 65,000 people for a long time, said Mayor Gord Milsom.

Since the city’s incorporation, council has been urging the province and B.C. Hydro to build another power line to the area, as there would be a significant impact to the community if a wildfire or mudslide were to take the line out, he said. The current transmission line runs from Merritt to a substation near Shannon Lake.

“Right now if the power went out for an extended period of time, there wouldn’t be any energy to run air conditioning and with the heat wave that’s occurring now, that could have a dramatic impact on people’s health. There wouldn't be power to operate medical devices or run healthcare facilities,” he said.

READ MORE: UBCO microgrids could solve West Kelowna power line problem

Milsom spoke to the CEO of B.C. Hydro last night, and said a decision on a new line will hopefully be made in the fall, as it’s been on the list of capital projects for the Crown corporation.

“We’re hoping we can get moving on this as it’s going to take a long time to build it and that's another concern, with climate change and the increase in wildfires, it’s going to take five, six, seven, eight years to build it once they make a decision,” he said.

“Unfortunately the process is taking far, far too long in my mind, and unfortunately it’s taken an example like the current Brenda Creek fire to really point out the severity of the situation.”

When Milsom saw the lights flicker in city hall last night, he was nervous.

“The last thing we want to have is a loss of power when there’s a wildfire,” he said. “Really, it’s a life and death situation to tell you the truth.”

The Brenda Creek wildfire is roughly 400 hectares in size and B.C. Wildfire Service information officer Aydan Coray said the fire is burning in close proximity to the transmission line. The fire is located roughly 40 kilometres west of West Kelowna and south of the Okanagan Connector.

B.C. Hydro crews were able to see the status of the power line via helicopter this morning, July 16, and structures appear to be intact, said Dag Sharman, B.C. Hydro community relations manager for the Southern Interior.

“It continues to service the people of West Kelowna and Peachland area, but we’re not out of the woods yet, the fire is still burning and we all know how unpredictable fires can be so we have crews who are standing by at the ready,” he said. “So far, so good.”

Yesterday, the fire burned past the transmission line, likely below or over the transmission line at least once, Sharman said.

The flickering lights yesterday in West Kelowna could have been caused by the wildfire.

"It's the way our system is intended to function, it's designed to protect equipment from the elements and at the same time keep the power flowing to our customers when things like debris and heavy smoke come into contact with the lines," Sharman said.

The line services 22,000 customers in the area, he said, adding that customers are considered to be homes and not individual people.

B.C. Hydro is assessing a new alternative to the line which would connect the Westbank substation to Fortis B.C. station on the Kelowna side, something B.C. Hydro has been looking at doing so for a long time, Sharman said.

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