At least 58 structures have been confirmed to have been lost or damaged in Central Okanagan wildfires, and that number is expected to climb.
“I want to share some news that will cause many of you great relief, but I also acknowledge it will cause many of you ongoing and increased anguish,” West Kelowna Fire Chief Jason Brolund said during a regional wildfire update on Monday (Aug. 21). “I can report today that we have a loss estimate for the neighbourhoods we have visited. It represents whole and partial losses, and we estimate there are approximately 50 structures.”
Brolund did not say which neighbourhoods sustained those losses but added the Smith Creek, Tallus Ridge, Shannon Lake, Lenz Road, and Rose Valley communities have had no structural losses.
Canada Task Force 1, a heavy urban search and rescue unit, is conducting the property loss assessment.
“We are not done yet,” said Brolund. “The most damaged neighbourhoods are yet to come.”
He also thanked the public for donations of food and beverages that are showing up at West Kelowna fire halls but noted it is becoming overwhelming and unsafe, and encouraged people to show their gratitude by writing a card or posting to social media.
“Thank the firefighters that are out there kicking ass,” Brolund said. “Continue to bring your kids by the fire hall and teach them what it means to be a public servant.”
In Kelowna, Fire Chief Travis Whiting confirmed that five homes have been lost in the Walroy Lake wildfire.
He said firefighters have been working hard to protect hundreds more homes.
“It’s long days and I want to pass on my deep appreciation to my crews out there today protecting this community and the crews doing those extra shifts.”
Whiting said that there is currently no significant fire threat, but communities affected by the blaze need to be made safe before evacuees can return home.
“I can tell you that it is one of the highest priorities for us to get people back into their homes and sleeping in their own beds as soon as we can.”
Lake Country Fire Chief Darren Lee reported destroyed and damaged structures in his community and also told a story of heroics.
“There was an engine crew from Ellison that saved a complete condominium complex on their own. I think they deserve huge credit for that.”
At least three homes have been lost on the North Westside, according to Fire Chief Ross Kotscherofski, who added that the Wilson’s Landing department has been heavily impacted by the McDougall Creek blaze.
“Several of these firefighters have confirmed that they no longer have a home,” he added. “They want to help their neighbours and they come from their hotel in Kelowna with nothing but a suitcase because that’s all that they have left. They show up every single day and have promised me they will continue to do so.”
All the fire chiefs reported subdued wildfire activity in their communities over the past 24 hours with crews having made good progress and no structural losses over that time period.
Once Canada Task Force 1 has completed property loss assessments in West Kelowna, the team will move on to Kelowna and Lake Country.
Heavy smoke is still hampering firefighting efforts, including the ability to accurately map wildfires.
“Hopefully it will lift this afternoon,” said Jerrad Schroeder, deputy manager with the Kamloops Fire Centre. “We are expecting to continue to see these more seasonal temperatures in the mid-twenties and the humidity will be working as well in our favour.”
Schroeder added winds are also expected to shift this afternoon and into tomorrow, but will not cause any of the Central Okanagan fires to spread.
“It is effectively another good day to fight fires.”