Former Lake Country fire chief recounts being trapped by White Rock Lake wildfire at career end | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Former Lake Country fire chief recounts being trapped by White Rock Lake wildfire at career end

FILE PHOTO - Lake Country fire chief Steve Windsor talks to the media.

The White Rock Lake wildfire that destroyed more than 80 homes in the Okanagan was the largest fire Lake Country’s former fire chief ever responded to.

Steve Windsor has his last day as chief Friday, April 29 after 45 years in the service. He got his start in Central Saanich as a volunteer firefighter before joining North Cowichan and then Pender Island as chief prior to landing a position with Lake Country where he’s been since 2003.

Windsor said the most destructive fire he's faced was the White Rock Lake wildfire when he serving last year as a task force leader, protecting structures on the Westside last summer. At its peak, the fire reached 833-square-kilometres is size and caused thousands of evacuation orders and alerts.

READ MORE: Destructive White Rock Lake wildfire being held

He and about 40 firetrucks became trapped due to fire along either side of the Westside so they had to wait for hours in an emergency staging area when the wind picked up late in the day at 11 p.m.

“We ran into powerlines and trees on fire everywhere so we turned around,” he said. "We tried to go to Westside and we got blocked and we went back to the staging area and sat there until 3 a.m. in the morning."

The fire never burned to where they sheltered, but he said they had enough resources to keep it at bay if it crept up. "That doesn't happen to B.C. Wildfire or structural protection crews very often when you have to shelter in place when you can't get out one way or another."

READ MORE: ‘Worst-case nightmare’: Multiple homes, structures lost to White Rock Lake wildfire

They managed to get out once a route became available to Vernon.

“There were a few days that were really, really long,” he said. 

While working on the White Rock Lake fire, he remembers saving a home that otherwise would have burned. Embers were smoldering in its roof that firefighters originally thought were from grass outside but they checked the back of the home and found a plume of black smoke.

“If we would have left it, it would have burnt down,” he said. “That was one of those saves you don’t see very often.”

The biggest challenge Lake Country's fire department will face now is dependent on how development moves ahead. If buildings reach more than four storeys, it will change firefighting strategies in the district, he said.

Moving forward, Windsor plans to volunteer his time with different emergency service positions in B.C. but first he’s enjoying a break.

The new fire chief will likely be announced this week, he said.

The largest fire in Lake Country was in 2017 when eight homes were destroyed in the Nighthawk Road area. Those homes have since been rebuilt. The culprit who started the fire has never been caught but police suspect the fire was part of many started in the region by a serial arsonist.

READ MORE: Police still searching for arsonist who started at least 29 Okanagan fires


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