KELOWNA, British Columbia – The hundreds of fire-blackened trees, contorted but some already showing signs of new growth, towered above mounds of gray ash where pine needles once covered the ground. Some trees had been “flashed” – burned only on one side as the fire moved this way and that. The view was of just a fraction of the more than 3,000 acres destroyed by fire in August 2003, here in the Okanagan Valley.
But since then, workers have removed more than 2,000 truckloads of burned wood, and the area has reopened to visitors. It provides cyclists with an unusual opportunity to combine moderate mountain bike rides through a gorgeous landscape, while viewing the fascinating post-fire landscape.
Ed Kruger, a burly Kelowna native, runs Monashee Adventures. He has been instrumental in creating new paths in the ravaged areas. Kruger has helped establish bike trails that follow the tracks of the old Kettle Valley Railway, known as the KVR.
The trains gave way to roads some time ago, but the rails were pulled up in 1976, leaving a great path and several old and imposing train trestles in the forest. The trestles now have boards to ride the bikes on, and guardrails.
Though 12 railroad bridges were destroyed by the fire, some, including the 700-foot-long, 201-foot-high Bellevue Creek Trestle, are intact. Built in the 1930s, these trestles offer a commanding view of the forest all around.
A rider on a forest fire recovery tour cycles across the Bellevue Trestle, a former railroad bridge.
“I lost part of my family when those trestles burned,” said Kruger. “I knew every inch of them. It got personal.”
Typical “forest fire recovery” cycling tours are slow-paced and cover from about 6.2 to 20 miles. Cyclists ride through stands of lodgepole pine, fir, alder, larch and tamarack. Deer, birds of prey and black bears can be seen on the ride.
The effects of the huge fire show at unexpected times. In a forest of brilliant green leaves are trees blackened, bent and curved by the flames. Other trees had exploded from the heat.
Ecologists and foresters note that while the fire destroyed more than 250 homes around Kelowna, it also served the natural cause of clearing brush that feeds such fires. New growth is seen on the forest floor.
This twisted tree trunk is a bizarre remnant of a forest fire that raged across more than 3,000 acres of British Columbias Okanagan Valley.
In addition to lumber companies that moved through to salvage damaged trees, a minibusiness has been operating in the area. Licensed mushroom hunters are harvesting morel mushrooms, which often spring up at the base of trees after fires.