Penticton Fire chief praises crew for fire knockdown - InfoNews

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Penticton Fire chief praises crew for fire knockdown

Quick action by Penticton firefighters knocked down a wildfire that threatened West Bench yesterday morning, July 20, 2017.
July 21, 2017 - 5:30 PM

PENTICTON - Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson had nothing but praise for his firefighters following yesterday’s West Bench wildfire.

"I’ve come across a lot of fires like these, and I think we did an incredible stop there yesterday,” he says, adding he immediately ordered evacuation of West Bench because he feared homes were going to catch fire.

Watkinson says the whole city’s fire department personnel answered the call, basically putting themselves between the fire and the subdivision, stopping the blaze before it could do more than damage a couple of roofs.

Thirty Penticton firefighters - all on-duty personnel - attended the fire, which broke out around 9:30 yesterday morning, July 20, in the Westwood Drive area of West Bench.

Watkinson says Naramata and Summerland fire departments were called in to assist Penticton’s stations, with Summerland staging at the fire providing support.

Upon arriving on scene initially, Watkinson says he asked the RCMP to begin evacuations immediately, noting the fire’s initial momentum.

“The way that fire was moving initially was extraordinary. We had candling pine trees, going from one to the other, along with six fallen pine trees lying on the ground. Those things erupted like napalm,” he says.

He says firefighters placed themselves in a risky position but managed to stem the wildfire with the use of hand lines.

A BC Wildfire crew was brought in off shift to help out, and a helicopter from the Princeton fire was utilized to provide additional air support.

Watkinson says the RCMP and the Ministry of Forests have taken on the investigation, because city investigators are more practised in structure fire origins.

Watkinson says he’s ramped up staffing levels for the daytime shift at the city’s two firehalls as the fire danger continues unabated.

“It’s costing a bit of money, with overtime costs, but without that yesterday, I don’t know whether we’d have gotten a handle on that fire,” he says, adding residents need to continue to maintain vigilance and keep an eye out for fires so they can be actioned quickly.

He says he’s taking every precaution, keeping staffing levels high and as chief, avoiding leaving the city.

He and Deputy Chief Chris Forster took command of yesterday’s fire to free up other personnel to fight the blaze.

“The fire statistics indicating the potential for wildfire are greater, or worse than they were in September of 2003,” he says, the year of the Okanagan Mountain Park fire, which burned more than 200 homes in Kelowna.


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