The wildfire burns along the Kitimat River on Monday morning. (Photo BC Wildfire Service)

COLUMN: An unflattering and inaccurate term

“Smokanagan” has been used to describe the Okanagan when fires burn

The community of Summerland has sometimes been referred to as “Slumberland,” a somewhat derogatory reference to the relaxed pace of life here.

The city of Winnipeg is sometimes called “Winterpeg,” a reference to its long and cold winters.

And the Okanagan Valley is sometimes called the “Smokanagan.” This descriptor has been used during the past couple of summers, as the valley has been affected by smoke from severe wildfire seasons.

None of these terms are particularly flattering or appealing.

And each of these terms is short on accuracy.

Summerland has a lot more going on than the “Slumberland” moniker would suggest.

Winnipeg, despite its memorable winters, also experiences beautiful summers.

And while the Okanagan Valley has been affected by wildfires, devastating fire seasons are not the image anyone in this area wants to present to the world.

READ ALSO: Summerland chamber director objects to ‘Smokanagan’ moniker

READ ALSO: No more Smokanagan, let’s claim summer back

“Smokanagan” is a term hated by chambers of commerce and those involved in the tourism and hospitality industry.

Last week, David Hull, executive director of the Summerland Chamber of Commerce, spoke out about the term after he saw it in a news headline about the Eagle Bluff wildfire burning near Oliver.

“We have to rebuild our bright, sunny Okanagan reputation,” he said. “Tourism’s a big part of the economy.”

Some might defend the use of the term “Smokanagan” as a way to quickly describe the effect of wildfires on the area.

However, the term doesn’t really say much. It doesn’t say if a fire is contained or out of control. It doesn’t address if homes or communities are at risk. In short, it’s a sloppy, lazy term.

More importantly, referring to this valley as the “Smokanagan” serves to trivialize a serious issue.

In recent years, summer wildfires in British Columbia have been devastating.

Last summer was the worst fire season in B.C.’s recorded history, with 2,117 fires destroying 1,354,284 hectares and resulting in 66 evacuation orders, affecting 2,211 properties.

Anyone who lived in this valley or most parts of the province will remember the heavy smoke and the poor air quality for much of the summer.

Some will remember being forced to leave their homes because of evacuation orders, while others were worried about friends and family members living near an out-of-control fire.

A term like “Smokanagan” seems to minimize this level of devastation.

The summer of 2017 was almost as bad as last summer, with more than 1.2 million hectares burned, around 65,000 people displaced and the longest provincial state of emergency in British Columbia’s history.

Again, those who lived here at the time will remember the fires were closer to this valley than any of us wanted.

There have been plenty of other bad fire seasons in our province in recent years.

At times, roads and highways have been closed because wildfires were burning nearby.

Evacuation alerts and evacuation orders have also affected homes in our region.

READ ALSO: The Smokanagan, Part One: How wildfire smoke affects children

READ ALSO: The Smokanagan, Part two: Physical health effects

READ ALSO: The Smokanagan, Part three: Mental health effects

And while this year’s fire season is far less severe than in previous years, many of us have grab-and-go bags ready, just in case we need to evacuate.

The intensity of recent wildfire seasons — and not just in 2017 and 2018 — is something to take seriously.

This is the time to have conversations about ways to prevent or reduce the risk of wildfire.

It’s also a time to discuss forest management, controlled burns and firefighting strategies.

Words like “Smokanagan” do not belong in those discussions.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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