Part three of a three-part series, one month after the destructive McDougall Creek wildfire began in the West Kelowna area.
In the heart of West Kelowna, an eatery named Two Brothers Mexican Restaurant is popular with local residents.
Earlier this year, Antonio Ortega and his partners decided to expand – a brand-new tiki bar alongside Okanagan Lake.
It was the place to be this summer, with a DJ station, a patio and a food truck. Patrons and staff enjoyed the good vibes.
The owners say business wasn’t just good, it was great.
Then the unthinkable happened: the McDougall Creek wildfire, with the resort squarely in the blaze’s destructive path.
It was a wall of flames, with winds reaching 50 to 60 km/h, and it took just 10 minutes to wipe out Ortega’s dream spot, with the business being reduced to ruins.
“We lost everything there,” said Ortega. “We lost the tiki bar, the food truck, staff with no jobs.”
Asked what his first reaction was, Ortega said “you know … that’s a lot of memories there. So yeah … it’s hard to swallow. But it is what it is.”
Despite the loss, and his torched tiki bar barely recognizable, Ortega temporarily closed his West Kelowna restaurant so staff there could focus on making meals for first responders and evacuees.
“We understand a lot of people lost a lot of things,” said Ortega. “We know more families who lost more than we actually did.
“I think it’s good for us to just give something to them … just to help each other… as a community.”
Said West Kelowna fire chief Jason Brolund: “I think people who were scared and didn’t know how it was going to turn out, turned to making food. And they brought it here.”
Ortega said “there was no hesitation to do this,” adding “this is just not me right, this is the whole team.”
Ortega is now looking at other locations for expansion. But his long-term vision is to reopen the tiki bar and let it rise from the ashes.
“Hopefully we can bring it back,” he said. “Things happen for a reason.”