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West Kelowna, B.C. firefighters put at risk by people not fleeing when orders came in

Click to play video: 'Timelapse of McDougall Creek wildfire in the Central Okanagan'
Timelapse of McDougall Creek wildfire in the Central Okanagan
WATCH: A timelapse of the McDougall Creek wildfire in the Central Okanagan – Aug 18, 2023

Officials are warning people to heed orders to flee their homes when they come in because decisions to delay have already put emergency responders in harm’s way.

“People chose not to evacuate in one case and emergency responders, including the RCMP and BC Wildfire Service stepped up and got those people out of the precarious situation they were in,” Jason Brolund, West Kelowna fire chief said of Thursday’s attempt to fight back the McDougall Creek wildfire.

In that case, he added, area residents couldn’t make it out when they tried to leave because, in the time that lapsed, the fire burned across the road and blocked their path. Brolund said that, “Great risk was taken to preserve life.”

“I’m very glad it turned out the way that it did but it didn’t have to be that way. We don’t put evacuation alerts on because it makes our job easier or it’s just something that we have to do, procedurally,” Brolund said.  “We do it because there’s a very real risk that we need you to leave your homes with little to no notice.”

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In another case, people had to be rescued out of the water at Trader’s Cove and, again, Brolund said it was an “option of last resort.”

With Thursday night’s rescue offering a prime example of what not to do, Brolund said the same scenario is likely to play out again and he wants people to make the right decisions.

Click to play video: 'B.C. wildfires: Evacuation alerts and updates changing as McDougall Creek wildfire grows'
B.C. wildfires: Evacuation alerts and updates changing as McDougall Creek wildfire grows

“We’re not done yet,  so don’t be complacent,” Brolund said. “I think today and tonight will be another challenging couple of operational periods.”

Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations for BC Wildfire, reinforced that message during a provincewide fire update.

“We have had a couple of incidents of people who have not adhered to the evacuation orders in place. And on a couple of different instances last night we had to send RCMP, fire department staff, and our own staff back into evacuation order zones to try to get people out,” he said.

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“That puts their lives at risk. Obviously the people who choose to stay’s lives are at risk, and has a significant toll on the mental and physical health of our staff and those who are there trying to get people out of the way of fires that are very unpredictable, moving extremely fast, at rates that we rarely see in British Columbia.”

The McDougall Creek wildfire is currently mapped at 6,800 hectares but that figure hasn’t changed since the morning, and heavy gusting winds are expected to fuel its movement.

As it moves, more neighbourhoods are being emptied out and RCMP is warning people to take care to protect their property from potential thieves.

As is, there are more than 2,400 evacuation orders in place and more than 5,000 evacuation alerts in place. That number has grown hourly, but a total isn’t readily available.  How many homes were destroyed has yet to become clear, though the worst damage is believed to be in Trader’s Cove, Bear Creek Road at the north end of West Kelowna.

No homes were lost in Kelowna as of Friday morning.

‘’We know that people are anxious to know the status of their homes,’’ Loyal Wooldridge, chair of the Central Okanagan regional district, said Friday. ‘’But this is still a very active fire situation and our focus is on protecting our community as best we can.

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‘’We’ll work hard to rescind all (evacuation) alerts and orders as soon as it’s safe to do so, but as we’ve noted today, that will be some time,’’ Wooldridge said.

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