Westwold area man being hailed as local hero for saving home from wildfire threat | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Westwold area man being hailed as local hero for saving home from wildfire threat

When the White Rock Lake wildfire spread close to Diane McCannel's home near Westwold, her neighbour was at the scene to defend the properties form the blaze on July 26, 2021.
Image Credit: B.C. Wildfire Service
July 28, 2021 - 3:30 PM

Diane McCannel's house near Westwold is still standing thanks to a neighbour who stayed behind to fend off the threat of the White Rock Lake wildfire.

McCannel's home is on Douglas Lake Road, roughly 10 kilometres from Westwold. She has been evacuated for more than a week, but when the wildfire crept near her property, McCannel's neighbour Kurt was around to keep the blaze from spreading to her home.

"I don't know them that well, but I got an email from the wife who said Kurt was up there trying to fight the fire around our houses. He was trying to fight it all on his own," McCannel said.

From there, a chain of communication between neighbours resulted in a co-ordinated effort to bring the B.C. Wildfire Service ground crews along Douglas Lake Road to the threatening wildfire and save McCannel's home on Monday, July 26.

"If it hadn't been for several people, starting with Kurt, my house probably would have been gone. I applaud them all," McCannel said. "It takes a certain type of bravery to try to save your neighbour's house."

It's not uncommon for residents within evacuated areas to stay behind and try to protect their properties, but B.C. Wildfire Service Information Officer Shannon Street says those efforts can put both individuals and fire suppression efforts at risk.

"Our (evacuation) recommendations go in for a reason, based on current fire behaviour and what we anticipate. Our position is always that people should leave," Street said. "Obviously people are our number one priority. If people are staying behind, it's their choice, but it's a legal order and it can hinder fire suppression efforts if they do stay behind."

As of July 28, the White Rock Lake wildfire has grown to an estimated 20,000 hectares and prompted evacuation alerts and orders from three regional districts in the area, as it split in two directions toward both Monte Lake and northeast to Falkland.

In the wake of the White Rock Lake wildfire, McCannel says the communities of Westwold and Monte Lake have collaborated to share information and resources. Her neighbour Kurt, who she says only moved there with his family in May, embodied that collaboration when he risked his safety to save her home.

The community has continues to work together in their shared plight, as the wildfire burns aggressively in the area, and weather conditions haven't improved.

"We always have a bit of a breeze (from the south) in the summer, but this last week has been really bad," she said. "Of course there's been no rain either. My field is crisp — dead, actually."

The wildfire service has been challenged to bring the blaze under control as hot and windy conditions persist in the area. On July 27, the wildfire spread east toward Bouleau Lakes, south of Falkland, along with continued spread to north.

The wildfire service is continuing too assess when air support is possible, but smoky conditions have made it difficult for aircraft to reach hot spots.

There are currently 117 firefighters at the scene, 100 of whom came from Quebec to assist the wildfire service.

There is also 36 heavy equipment units, ten danger tree fallers, a structural protection unit and nine firefighters from other local fire departments at the White Rock Lake wildfire.

There are seven helicopters available to douse hot spots as ground crews work to establish fire guards surrounding its perimeter.

Go here for evacuation and emergency service updates from the Thompson Nicola Regional District.

Go here for updates from the Columbia Shuswap Regional District.

Go here for updates from the Regional District of the North Okanagan.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 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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