Calmer, cooler conditions allowed crews to make gains on the front lines of fires burning in the Central Okanagan Saturday but the fight is far from over, officials warned.
As of Saturday night, the fire was mapped at 11,00 hectares, though, BC Wildfire Service official, Jerrad Schroeder, said visibility has been challenging and limited their ability to get an updated aerial track at this time. Overnight, there were no further evacuations, or properties lost and gains on the front lines were made.
West Kelowna Fire Chief Jason Brolund said things are looking better but there are hard days ahead.
“We’re now four days in and it feels like months. But things are looking better,” Brolund said.
“We are finally feeling like we’re moving forward, rather than moving backward and that’s a great feeling for all of us to have. In saying that, make no mistake, there will be difficult days ahead and we are continuing to prepare and address those not necessarily firefighting days, although there’s lots of hard work to do.”
Brolund said conditions have allowed the 500 firefighters working to get right out to the control lines that have been constructed by the wildfire service.
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“They’ve let us get boots on the ground and go in and dig and put water where water needs to be,” he said.
“We haven’t been challenged with extraordinary fire behavior that necessitated extraordinary suppression. We’re dealing with things like we’re used to seeing. However, we are dealing with them on an epic scale and there are a million points of fire still out there, across our community.”
As that is dealt with, Brolund said he believes recovery is going to be the biggest challenge in the days ahead though assets have been made available.
“The public should also take great comfort, as I did this morning, with the arrival of Canada Task Force 1,” Brolund said. “Yesterday, I requested this heavy urban search and rescue team be deployed to the Central Okanagan.”
It’s a national service and Brolund said there will be 50 people with training to conduct searches and rapid damage assessment. They will offer better insight into property losses.
“The powerful thing about that team is that they are self-sufficient and they’re able to deploy without any impact to our community or existing operation,” he said.
Brolund said there have been no reports of missing people, and while he knows there has been significant loss when it comes to homes, there is no official count available as of yet.
It’s a similar situation in Kelowna and Lake Country as well.
“We saw decreased activity overnight. We did have some flare-ups, and the crews were actively engaged in firefighting but it has really subsided this morning,” Kelowna Fire Chief Travis Whiting said.
“I can tell you when I was at the staging (at the fire hall) this morning, my hands were cold which was a good sign. So we’re going to take advantage of today and tomorrow which we know are looking like similar weather patterns to to really try and get a handle on protection of neighborhoods and homes.”
Whiting said crews were deployed in Kelowna Sunday morning with the mission to “seek and destroy” any perimeter fire around structures.
“So what that means is as the fire has crept down into the neighborhoods we’ll be going from neighborhood to neighborhood and working directly behind homes, while the fire has subsided a bit, to extinguish any fire on the perimeter of homes to create a guard and help bolster the defenses.
He said these days of putting these defenses will be critical in the long run.
“To have the opportunity to get this work done and crews are optimistic and in good spirits heading out today because we’ve got some really, really critical objectives that are going to be met this today and tomorrow that that will have a big impact,” he said.
While progress has been made, fire officials said there’s no available timeline for when the fire will be under control.
Evidence that there had been improvements came midday Sunday, when officials announced that evacuation orders for the Clifton McKinley Fire had been downgraded to alerts.
All properties accessed off Quail Ridge Boulevard including the Quail Ridge Golf Club, and properties in the UBC Okanagan District saw a downgrade. The streets impacted in the UBC Okanagan change were Alumni Avenue, Lower Residence Lane, Upper Residence Place, Research Road, Athletics Court, University Way, Athletics Court, Discovery Avenue, Innovation Court and International Mews.
At 11:30 a.m., the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre did expand an existing evacuation alert in Kelowna for six addresses on Glenmore Road.
For specific addresses go to www.cordemergency.ca.