KELOWNA - Following yesterday's fire in North Glenmore area residents were put on a boil water notice. So how exactly did people's drinking water come into the equation?
Glenmore Ellison Improvement District operations manager Darren Schlamp says typically in residential areas the fire department can access hydratants with 150 feet, but yesterday's fire broke out in a somewhat rural area in north Glenmore and the nearest hydrant was hundreds of meters away.
The Kelowna Fire Department made a decision to access the local water reservoir to fight the flames.
Platoon captain Kelly Stephens says sudden wind gusts causing some trees to catch fire forced them to amp up their water attack from the top of the hill.
“Crews up on top had to open up the water holding tank for Glenmore to put the fire out quickly," Stephens says.
"In a rural area we don't always have access to hydrants," he says and with yesterday's fire the challenge was getting enough water at the top of the hill to stop the flames from spreading.
"We can't always get big trucks into certain areas," Stephens says. While the fire department tries to exhaust all other options before accessing a drinking water source, sometimes it's the only reliable alternative.
"Any chance we get... If we can use that we will," he says. At one point yesterday B.C. Forestry was called to bring buckets of water by air tanker.
Once they breached the reservoir lid, firefighters were stationed to secure the area. But Stephens says their use of the reservoir was relatively non-obtrusive, using a hard suction pipe to pull water from the source.
Schlamp says it's a tough call the fire department had to make, but there was nothing else in the area to supply the amount of water needed as quickly as possible.
“It might have been the key difference in getting the fire knocked out,” he says.
The trade-off, he says, is a temporary risk to drinking water for residents in the district.
By popping the access hatch to the reservoir and introducing their own pump it's possible their equipment could have contaminated the water source.
“Now we have a potential unknown,” Schlamp says, requiring the district to issue a Boil Water Notice for their customers.
In other words, the district cannot guarantee the drinking water meets the required national standards, and uses the boil notice as a “method of risk control.”
Water testing and consultation with Interior Health will determine when the water is confirmed safe for drinking again.
But Schlamp says it will likely be a couple days before the notice is lifted.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250)718-0428.