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All fire, all the time: Flames fuel online media in the Okanagan

The massive forest fire on the west bank of Okanagan Lake may be too far away from The Tyee's Vancouver offices for us to smell the smoke, but views of the flames from hundreds of professional and amateur photographers in the Kelowna region are as close as your nearest internet connection.

For area residents, however, following the fire online is more than just curiosity -- it's a means of knowing where to go, what to do, and which friends and family might suddenly need a place to stay.

And that means that it is a perfect opportunity for local news websites to distinguish themselves as the place to go for information.

A reporter at one of those websites described the situation in an email to The Tyee:

the fire is ... a catalyst for a huge media battle, with people here glued to media outlets of all kinds and us media folks falling over ourselves to be continuous conduits of new information. The outfit I'm working with,, has its sights on overtaking the established online outlet, (which incidentally made its mark during the 2003 fires) as well as the local papers. We are now in our fifth week and we have abandoned coverage of everything else, from entertainment to sports, for all fire, all the time.

That description is not an exaggeration. At both and on Tuesday morning, all local stories were fire-related with the exception of reports on two fatal traffic accidents.

Winners and losers in the media battle won't be conclusively determined until after the crisis is over, but an idea of the current ranking can be taken from the world's most successful search engine.

When you google “Kelowna news,” the top ranked website is The site also comes up on top for “Kelowna fire,” ahead of even the Kelowna fire department.

Other top sources for Kelowna news, in order, based on this unofficial google-ranking: the Black Press-owned daily paper Kelowna Capital News; google's own news feed; AM 1150 news talk radio; the other daily paper, the Kelowna Daily Courier; local TV station CHBC's news page;; and yahoo's local page for Kelowna.

However, the new kid on the net, -- which recently increased its news coverage after being established as a tourism and lifestyle site -- may have got an unexpected boost from the British Columbia government yesterday.

In a July 20 news release outlining how the province is supporting emergency relief services and fire fighting efforts, was one of two websites residents were advised to consult for “the most up to date information on the fire and relief efforts.”

Considering that the other web site mentioned was that of the District of West Kelowna, it is possible that the province's communication staff intended to direct people to the home page of the City of Kelowna.

But then again, maybe not. Unlike the extensive fire coverage on, the official municipal site,, does not have any mention of the flames burning across the lake.

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

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