West Kelowna still getting full protection while city firefighters battling flames elsewhere | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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West Kelowna still getting full protection while city firefighters battling flames elsewhere

The power line serving communities on the west side of Okanagan Lake can be seen in this July 20 photo of the Brenda Creek wildfire.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/BC Wildfire Service
July 22, 2021 - 7:30 AM

West Kelowna is keeping all its fire halls staffed while off-duty firefighters are 40 km away helping with the Brenda Creek wildfire.

It’s not unusual for municipal firefighters to battle wildfires when they threaten their boundaries but it is unique to have them travel so far away to do that work, West Kelowna Fire Rescue Chief Jason Brolund told iNFOnews.ca.

“Our number one mission is to protect the citizens of the City of West Kelowna and Westbank First Nation,” he said. “That’s why we’re here. We’ll never compromise that mission. But, at the same time, we do receive numerous requests from the province, on a regular basis, to deploy to various places to help out.”

They recently helped fight a wildfire outside their boundaries at Bear Creek, for example, to help protect the community and had an assistant fire chief at Lytton.

Now, they’re being joined by firefighters from Peachland, North Westside and Kelowna fire departments trying to protect the power line from Merritt to the Westside from the Brenda Creek wildfire.

It’s the only source of electricity for that area.

“It threatens a piece of critical infrastructure which is the power line for our community, for Westbank First Nation, Peachland and for North Westside, hence, that’s why you see these departments involved.”

He can’t speak for the other departments but assumes they remain fully staffed in their fire halls as well. There were 14 firefighters working the fire today, so only a few from each community go out each day.

They do the work on their days off and are paid overtime.

“The objective of our crews is to do two things,” Brolund said. “One is to harden the (wooden) power poles so, removing anything from around the base of poles that might cause fires to reach them. Also, to deal with spot fires that are in proximity to the line to make sure they don’t turn into something more.”

The fire has burned with various levels of intensity, he said. In some areas, it was on the ground and stopped when it reached the power line.

“In some areas it was much higher fire intensity and burned with some vigor right up to the power line,” Brolund said. “It is burning on both sides of the line now.”

The fire is still active so he couldn’t say how long crews will continue to travel to the site.

“There is a very real risk there still,” Brolund said. “There are lots of hot spots, lots of fire still burning. We will continue to do what we can to try to protect that line.”

READ MORE: Crews work to protect hydro transmission line threatened by wildfire near Peachland

If they fail in those efforts the consequences to West Kelowna and other areas will be “very significant.”

Various agencies are working together on contingency plans in case the power goes out and there are numerous back-up generators for the water system, as an example, he said.

The Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre encourages residents and businesses that could be affected by any extended power outage to make emergency preparations. Information and links are available at www.cordemergency.ca/beprepared.

The evacuation alert continues within a section of the Regional District of Central Okanagan Central Okanagan West Electoral Area affected by the fire, south of Highway 97C and northwest of Peachland. 

A map showing the details of the Alert area is online here. The alert also includes portions of the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen and Thompson Nicola Regional District and anyone affected in those regional districts should check with their emergency program for the latest information. This area is also affected by a B.C. Wildfire Area Restriction Order.

– With files from Kathy Michaels.

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