Existing and new wildfires fanned by strong winds are spreading in multiple directions throughout the Central Okanagan Friday morning and Loyal Wooldridge, Central Okanagan Regional District Chair, said last night’s aggressive growth of the McDougall Creek fire could well serve as a preview of what will happen in the coming days.
“Unfortunately, we are not out of the woods yet,” Wooldridge said.
Wooldridge made these comments during a Friday morning update hosted by the Central Okanagan Emergency Operation Centre. Crews representing multiple departments are simultaneously battling two fires in the Central Okanagan: the McDougall Creek fire and Clifton/McKinley fire burning in Kelowna along a strip on the eastern shore of Lake Okanagan that starts north of Knox Mountain and running north.
Wooldridge acknowledged that the McDougall Creek fire with an estimated size of 6,800 hectares destroyed a yet-to-be-determined number of structures in West Kelowna. But the public also heard that crews were able to save multiples homes and several pieces of critical infrastructure, including Rose Valley Elementary School and the Rose Valley Water Treatment Plant.
Jason Brolund, West Kelowna Fire Chief, confirmed the loss of homes. Fire destroyed a “significant number” of buildings both inside and outside the municipal borders of West Kelowna, he said. But he would not comment on reports that the fire had destroyed 80 homes. The focus now lies on fighting the fire, he said. “We need to stop this fire before it continues further,” he said, pointing to its size and aggressive behaviour.
“We fought 100 years worth of fires — all in one night,” he said when describing the challenging conditions experienced. “We may have another scary night tonight,” he added.
He also repeated earlier calls to follow evacuation orders. He said fire had temporarily trapped crews Friday night, because individuals had chosen to remain behind in defying evacuation orders designed to save lives.
“We will risk a lot to save a lot,” he added, when asked about those situations. But he also said that some individuals took unnecessary risks, while expressing relief that the situation had resolved itself with the help of RCMP and BC Wildfire Service.
But if Brolund did not mince words in describing the seriousness of the situation, he also used the occasion to praise cooperation among firefighters from across the province and give the public a sense of confidence about the situation ahead.
“Don’t panic,” he said. “We got a great team here.”
Nicole Bonnett, a spokesperson for BC Wildfire Service, echoed Wooldridge’s prediction.
“Fire activity will be quite aggressive,” she said, pointing to the weather situation. They include high temperatures and strong winds in the wake of a passing cold front currently sweeping north to south across B.C. The situation remains dynamic, she said, adding additional information could become available this afternoon. Up 80 personnel were involved in various aspects of fighting the fires Friday night and more resources are on their way, she said.
Kelowna Fire Chief Travis Whiting said during his portion of the update that no homes were lost in Kelowna, but echoed the larger point that the situation is far from resolved. “This is not over,” he said. “We are in Day Two of a fight that’s going to go on for the foreseeable future over the next few days.”
Friday’s morning update also included representatives from Interior Health and other agencies, including RCMP.
Crews are also battling wildfires north and south of the Central Okanagan. They include fires in the Lake Country area north of UBC-Okanagan and south of Vernon as well as in the South Okanagan communities of Kaleden and Twin Lakes. Crews also continue to battle a large, aggressive fire near Keremeos.