‘100 years of firefighting in one night’: West Kelowna fire chief says as wildfire moves north

Emergency crews described a terrifying night of wildfire fighting Friday morning, as the the West Kelowna wildfire that jumped eastward over Okanagan Lake Thursday night makes its way north into Lake Country.

In an update from the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) Friday morning, West Kelowna Fire Chief Jason Brolund described the night of firefighting as “100 years of firefighting all at once, in one night.”

We fought hard last night to protect our community,” he said. “We fought 100 years’ worth of fires, all in all in one night.”

Brolund says his worst nightmare came true — crews became trapped behind the fire line at one point during the night.

Those emergency responders were trapped because they were rescuing members of the public who had chosen not to leave,” he added.

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“Significant” structure losses have been confirmed, the chief said, adding that it was a “devastating night, probably the toughest of my career.”

“The firefight going on right now is as significant today as it was last night. So, we need to put our focus there. We need to stop this fire before it continues any further, then we’ll get on to the counting. And then we’ll get on to getting people back to their homes when it’s safe.

It’s horrible. The loss and our hearts go out to the people who are going to get this news eventually.”

McDougall Creek wildfire is making its way north on the east side of Okanagan Lake. (Courtesy BC Wildfire Service Dashboard)

McDougall Creek wildfire is making its way north on the east side of Okanagan Lake. (Courtesy BC Wildfire Service Dashboard)

Brolund says despite the losses, firefighters were able to save critical infrastructure in West Kelowna, including the fire hall, the school, the city’s chlorinator, dam, and the new Rose Valley Water Treatment Plant.

Hundreds of boots will soon be on the ground, Brolund says, as out-of-town wildfire crews join the fight.

“The team from the RCMP, police officers, just kept coming in. I don’t know where they all came from, but they knocked on every single door that I asked them to — it was 1,000s of doors that were knocked on. That’s incredible,” he said.

In an update to the BC Wildfire Service Dashboard just after 10 a.m. Friday, six new wildfires sparked between Kelowna proper and Lake Country.

According to the dashboard, three of the new wildfires are clustered in the Winfield area, with the other three further south in Kelowna North.

B.C. Premier issues statement on the wildfires

B.C. Premier David Eby issued a statement early Friday afternoon, calling the situation “devastating” and “volatile,” and asking everyone living in a wildfire-impacted area to listen to local authorities, be prepared for an evacuation, and “look out for one another.”

“We need everyone to stay alert,” he said. “We know some people have lost their homes and many more are being asked to evacuate, not knowing what they’ll find when it’s safe to return,” Eby said, adding evacuation order decisions are not made lightly.

“We must do our part to make sure emergency workers can do their work and get to where they need to go.

He went on to thank firefighters, resource crews, First Nations, and local government as they work to keep everyone safe.

“The battle continues today to protect people and communities around British Columbia.”

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