RCMP believe 29 Okanagan wildfires were caused by arson and are all connected.
A deliberately set wildfire quickly spread through a Lake Country neighbourhood on July 15, 2017.
Ralph Smith was just getting ready to settle in for a nap one day last summer when a wildfire suddenly ignited near his home in Lake Country, B.C.
His home and seven others were quickly swept up in the flames and destroyed, but Smith is acutely aware of how much worse things could have been.
“Another half an hour, and I would have been down and out — I never would have known it was coming,” he told CBC.
Soon after that disastrous July day, Smith and the other homeowners learned that investigators believed the fire had been set deliberately.
And then this week, there was more unsettling news — police had connected the Lake Country wildfire to 28 other Okanagan arson cases dating back to 2014. The RCMP have set up a task force to track down the person or people responsible.
“I just hope they catch the guy and string him up. Whoever’s done this has ruined so many lives,” Smith said.
Mounties aren’t revealing how they drew connections between the 29 fires, except to say that investigators have found similarities in all of them.
“Thankfully, no one was injured or killed, but there’s always the potential for loss of life,” Staff Sgt. Annie Linteau told CBC.
The fires were set in Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Osoyoos, Oliver, Penticton, Summerland and Lake Country — mostly in the interface areas where wilderness meets human habitation.
Firefighters in the Okanagan have been aware of an issue with wild-land arson for some time, according to Lake Country Fire Chief Steve Windsor.
“We were actually prepped by the RCMP quite a ways prior to our  fire to look out for certain indicators,” he said.
Investigators believe that whoever is responsible is looking for a particular set of conditions before setting the fires, according to Windsor.
“We think that the individual looks at an area and then he looks at potentially the weather forecast. In our particular case, it was a combination of the weather factors and the topography that created such an inferno and took off so quickly,” he said.
The 29 wildfires include, in part, the following: