Bulk of wildfire destruction on Okanagan Lake's west side in Estamont: regional district director | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Bulk of wildfire destruction on Okanagan Lake's west side in Estamont: regional district director

The White Rock Lake wildfire on Aug. 14, 2021, just before dozens of homes were destroyed.
Image Credit: TWITTER/BC Wildfire Service
August 19, 2021 - 3:30 PM

With about 75 homes destroyed by the White Rock Lake wildfire on the west side of Okanagan Lake, it seems the vast majority were in one subdivision.

While the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations centre has identified the area from Ewings Landing north to Killiney Beach as the area that was damaged, regional district director Wayne Carson understands it was more focused than that.

“Estamont has just been devasted,” Carson said. “It’s just horrible.”

READ MORE: UPDATE: Emergency officials now say 70 structures destroyed on west side of Okanagan Lake

He estimated there are 55 to 60 homes in that subdivision, which is above Westside Road between the two identified areas.

“I know there’s one structure down there where one fellow seemed to have a water supply and a sprinkler,” Carson said. “Apparently, his structure is still standing and an RV, which is just outside the humidity bubble that the sprinkler created, is totally gone.”

It seems most or all of the 12 to 15 Summer Sands homes may have been destroyed as well, he said.

“Aspen Shores is a group of older homes close to Forest House Resort,” Carson said. “One resident has significant pumping experience. They had their homes all covered with sprinklers and right up the hill behind them. I hear they all survived.”

He’s talked to one man who said no homes were destroyed in Ewings Landing. Since it’s a waterfront community, he assumes his source went past it by boat.

Carson himself is evacuated from his own home in Killiney Beach, where there are about 285 homes.

One of his neighbours took some photos of that area.

“It looks from the pictures that the fire came really close,” Carson said. “We did lose houses on the lower end of Hodges Road. We lost houses at the south end of Hodges Road so, ya, it was far closer than I want it to be.”

The difference between those homes that survived and those that were burned was largely due to sprinklers, Carson said.

He was the chief of North Westside Fire Rescue before becoming a politician. He ran for office largely due to his frustration in getting regional districts to support some of his fire control efforts.

Carson fought for seven years to get a boat for the fire department. That boat was considered a major asset for firefighting efforts this year as it pumped water uphill to a filling station that saved tanker trucks 30 to 45 minutes for each trip where they didn’t have to drive down to Okanagan Lake.

“Funding for the boat sat in bank for four years while they debated at the board table on whether it was an effective piece of equipment,” Carson said. “Not once did anybody ask me to come in and defend it.”

The boat went on the water in about 2012.

Carson’s next goal was to get directors to support buying emergency generators for the Killiney Beach and Westshore water system as a pilot project. Those would ultimately be funded by water users.

He also wanted gas tax revenues to be used to buy sprinklers and hoses.

The idea was for residents, in case of an evacuation, to put the sprinklers on their roofs before they left. Then firefighters would hook them up to fire hydrants that would serve 15 to 20 homes each.

They would then go through and turn the hydrants on for 20 minutes or so every three hours. That gave maximum protection while conserving water.

Leaving sprinklers on too long can drain water supplies that are vital for firefighting efforts.

READ MORE: The unexpected consequences of leaving sprinklers running while evacuated

Most of the structural fire damage is caused by ember showers blowing far ahead of the actual burning forest, Carson explained.

So, as the ember showers approach, the idea would be for firefighters to turn on the hydrants – which would have a good water supply from the back-up generators – then get out of the area to somewhere safe.

An hour or so later, after the danger had passed, they could then go in and fight spot fires and, when safe to do so, turn off the sprinklers.

That would have put the North Westside in the forefront of fireproofing a community. But it never happened.

Logan Lake took a similar approach and avoided any structural damage this year when the Tremont Creek wildfire penetrated within its municipal boundaries.

READ MORE: Logan Lake residents returning home; evacuation order downgraded to alert

“Logan Lake pretty much did what I wanted to do and they have proven this is the way you protect a community,” Carson said. “Of course, they have a water supply and they prepared with sprinklers and they hit their community very hard with FireSmart.”

FireSmartBC is a provincial program aimed at reducing damage from wildfires.

As a regional district director, Carson is going to continue to fight for a similar system in the Central Okanagan.

In the meantime, he’s staying in a West Kelowna motel under evacuation order, as are so many of his neighbours and constituents.

“I, and the regional district, are doing everything we can to get them back to their homes as quickly as possible,” Carson said. “But it has to be done safely.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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