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‘We are an army out there’: West Kelowna fire chief

Provincial and local states of emergency now declared around Okanagan
The Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO) along with BC Wildfire Services and more will be providing an update at 11 a.m. (Jordy Cunningham/Capital News)

Amid the devastation of wildfires on both sides of Okanagan Lake, West Kelowna’s fire chief is convinced his city, Kelowna, and Lake Country will recover and emerge stronger.

‘This event will leave a long-lasting scar on the community,” said Jason Brolund during a regional update on the wildfire situation in the Central Okanagan. “I have already seen how the community is coming together. A lot of good work is being done. We are an army out there.”

Brolund noted that 41 departments across B.C. have sent personnel and equipment to help fight fires in the Central Okanagan.

“How do I begin to thank all of those fire chiefs? I will find a way to pay you back.”

READ MORE: Community leaders urge calm and patience as crews battle Okanagan wildfires

Brolund said several structures were lost Friday (Aug. 19), but didn’t provide an exact number. He added that a dedicated team will soon begin the process of determining property losses.

“Many of these areas still aren’t safe,” he explained. “Fires are still burning in many areas.”

Brolund also addressed property owners who want to know when they can go home.

“The answer there is that we don’t know. I know it’s difficult to be out. Many of my firefighters, including myself and my family, are also out. As soon as we know we will provide that information.”

Brolund said crews also saved the almost complete Rose Valley Water Treatment Plant. The $75 million facility is expected to go online this fall.

“We were not going to let it burn down,” he said. “The fire burned over it, and it’s not damaged.”

Additionally, he recounted a story of crews trying to put out fires at three homes, all next to each other, with the flames threatening dozens more above them.

“We had fire crews on the ground and BC Wildfire from the air. This is unprecedented…it’s amazing and a prime example of what’s happening out there.”

READ MORE: Evacuation order issued for Sorrento/Skimikin areas in the Shuswap

Kelowna Fire Chief Travis Whiting said crews continue to work hard on the Walroy Lake wildfire.

“We still have a significant amount of fire activity, but we are dug in deep. Our crews are doing what they can to protect communities.”

Whiting said several structures were burned yesterday in the Wilden neighbourhood, but did not provide a specific number.

“We need a better assessment, and to talk to homeowners first, so that we can speak accurately. We have been successful in protecting other homes.”

Whiting added that there was also significant fire activity and response in Lake Country overnight.

North Westside Fire Chief Ross Kotscherofski said his department is doing everything it can to suppress aggressive fire behaviour.

“I know it’s been a trying time for everyone, especially those who have been evacuated,” added. “We will do our best to get you back into your communities and back into your homes.”

A cold front, which lowered temperatures in the Southern Interior, has since passed but its effects are still being felt said Jerrad Schroeder, deputy fire manager with the Kamloops Fire Centre.

“We still have critically dry conditions and difficult days ahead.”

He added that smokey conditions linger, causing limited visibility for aircrews.

“Air resources will continue to fly as long as it is safe to do so. Out-of-province resources continue to arrive. We have excellent cooperation from all agencies involved in the fight and we are trying to save and protect as much as we can.”

According to Central Okanagan Emergency Operations, approximately 10,700 properties are under evacuation order and a further 9,500 are on alert.

READ MORE: Cooler temperature, no rain in Okanagan weather forecast


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