‘Difficult days ahead’: Fire activity still high for wildfires in West Kelowna, Kelowna

Click to play video: 'West Kelowna fire chief provides update, shares stories of front-line wildfire fight'
West Kelowna fire chief provides update, shares stories of front-line wildfire fight
West Kelowna Fire Chief Jason Brolund is proud of the response that has been seen in the fight against the McDougall Creek wildfire – Aug 19, 2023

The three wildfires burning in the Central Okanagan are still experiencing significant fire activity, and officials said difficult days are still ahead.

The cold front, which ignited fire conditions over the past two days, has passed, but the effects are still lingering, including extremely dry conditions.

Click to play video: 'West Kelowna fire chief informs no return date for evacuees at this time'
West Kelowna fire chief informs no return date for evacuees at this time

In West Kelowna, fire chief Jason Brolund provided an update on the current status of the fight against the McDougall Creek wildfire.

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“(Friday) was one of the most difficult days of firefighting our department has ever faced,” Brolund said.

To provide a glimpse into the firefighting work being done, Brolund shared a short story.

“Our crews were sent to a street in West Kelowna and they found three houses burning all next to each other. The fire was expanding up the hill (and) it was threatening hundreds of homes above those three,” he said during the press conference.

“On a normal day for us, (three homes) would be a massive operation. These firefighters fully engaged and fought that fire. At the same time, our crews were fighting on the ground, (BC Wildfire Service) crews were flying above dropping water on the same fire.

“This is unprecedented fire tactics taking place out there. To save hundreds of homes like that is absolutely amazing.”

Brolund did not have an exact number of structures lost and called it incredibly devastating, but he also commended the actions taken by firefighters that have saved “countless homes and infrastructure.”

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“I am sad to report we lost multiple structures (Friday) again within the City of West Kelowna,” he said.

“I don’t know (the) number. I haven’t been able to go in and see it yet. We will start counting the number of (lost) houses when we stop fighting the fires. As soon as we know, we will share the information, (we will) get people an official notification.”

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Brolund said there is no return date for evacuees at this time as the fight still continues in the community and a task force will be created to start counting and charting which homes have been lost.

Click to play video: 'Emergency officials said cold front has passed through but effects lingering in Central Okanagan'
Emergency officials said cold front has passed through but effects lingering in Central Okanagan

“As soon as we can get people back safely, we will,” he said.

A BC Wildfire Service official, Jerrad Schroeder, said the lingering effects from the cold front are still affecting fire activity in the region. The cold front has led to low humidity, which is adding to fire activity.

BC Wildfire Service crews are focused on high-priority areas, with structural protection and addressing spot fires, as well as working the fire line.

In Kelowna, fire chief Travis Whiting gave an update on the fight against two wildfires that sparked from floating embers from across the lake.

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“As we move into these next few days, I want to make sure people don’t underestimate that because we don’t see the same level of winds, we (are) still seeing a significant amount of fire activity,” Whiting said.

“It’s been a really busy night. I am very satisfied with our efforts last night as far as what we achieved. The fire moving north is being worked on with assets from Lake Country, up toward the north end of Glenmore.

“On the south end of the fire, we have a bunch of structure protection and systems being put in place to ensure we have that whole area is hardened, if that fire turns back on us in the coming days.”

Assets are being moved back and forth between West Kelowna and Kelowna as needed, Whiting said.

“We still have a lot of fire potential, and we are digging in deep,” he said.

Structures have been lost in the city of Kelowna, according to the fire chief. But he is not ready to give a specific number yet.

“We are not prepared to speak too far on that until we get a better assessment so we can speak accurately. My first property is to speak with those affected first,” Whiting said.

“We have contained the structures lost to one area.”

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Whiting is pleading with the public to stay away from the fires as crews need the space to operate effectively.

The McDougal Creek wildfire burning in West Kelowna is 10,500 hectares which has led to thousands of evacuations and even more on alert. Same thing in Kelowna, where the two ongoing fires has led to mass evacuations and alerts.

British Columbia Premier David Eby declared a state of provincial emergency Friday evening.

“We are facing the worst wildfire season in our province’s history — this unprecedented situation has come to a head this evening,” Eby said.

“In the last 24 hours, the situation has evolved and deteriorated quite rapidly. In just the last hour, we’ve gone from about 4,500 homes under evacuation to about 15,000 (people) being evacuated from their homes across the province.”

Eby said the emergency declaration was being implemented “to ensure we have rapid access to any tools we may need to respond to this situation.”

— With files from Amy Judd and Simon Little

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