With McDougall Creek wildfire under control, focus turns to lessons learned

Seagun Lavoucane and her partner were the last people to flee their West Kelowna home as flames moved into their neighbourhood on Bear Creek Road.

Her partner went to open the gates of her neighbourhood and allow the police to come through. The gates had automatically locked when fire started to encroach on the area and the electricity was shut down.

“It was probably five minutes before that I got the email saying that we would finally (be on evacuation order) but all my neighbours were already gone,” she said.

Given how close the fire was, she said she would have hoped for something to come through sooner.

“With that being said, I could see the fire out of my front window, so we had our car packed and ready,” she said. Despite this, she said she was “curious” why she still hadn’t received an evacuation order.

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Click to play video: 'One-on-one with West Kelowna fire chief Jason Brolund'
One-on-one with West Kelowna fire chief Jason Brolund

In the weeks that followed she learned she’d lost her home.

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It was just the start of her trying times. In the two months that have passed, Lavoucane has moved nine times, trying to find something that would work. She’s confident that she found a place to last for a while, at least.

“I just ended up renting a home from one of my friends,” she said.

Her story, and the stories of others on a similar path, are what West Kelowna Coun. Rick de Jong is hoping to hear with an independent public hearing process that may be launched later in the year.

A motion regarding the hearing process will be introduced Tuesday at a regular council meeting.

Among other things, if passed, the process will engage emergency personnel, volunteers, and local residents who were impacted by this wildfire.

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“The public has something to say and they deserve a time to share their stories in an open, transparent forum. Sharing of these stories is part of the healing process,” reads the motion.

Click to play video: 'Victim of McDougall Creek fire finds a way to give back'
Victim of McDougall Creek fire finds a way to give back

“There is an opportunity to learn from the responses to the McDougall Creek Wildfire and how to improve the Regional District of Central Okanagan Emergency Plan, a living document that was last revised in 2020.

The motion would also see council direct the mayor to write the Regional District of Central Okanagan to request an independent public hearing process regarding the McDougall Creek Wildfire with a focus on emergency support services and the effectiveness of the Regional District of Central Okanagan Emergency Plan.

The way residents fared in the days after the fire has continually been cited as a cause of concern.

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The McDougall Creek wildfire is officially under control. It had been deemed held for the two weeks prior to Oct. 5, and the shift means the blaze will not spread any further.

It’s been a couple of weeks since evacuation orders and alerts were rescinded.

The fire started on Tuesday, Aug. 15, and raged out of control on Aug. 17. It grew to nearly 14,000 hectares from where it started.

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