Firefighters from Vancouver Island fire departments have been deployed to the Okanagan to help with the wildland fires in Kelowna.
More than 30,000 people were under evacuation orders in the Kelowna area over the weekend due to the fires. British Columbia Premier David Eby on Saturday announced an emergency travel ban to fire zones to free up accommodation for the displaced residents as well as fire crews.
Hundreds of firefighters have been engaged against fires that have caused an unknown amount of destruction in Kelowna and West Kelowna. Called the Grouse Complex fire, those burning around Kelowna are some of more than 380 active wildfires burning in B.C.
Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement on Saturday, Aug. 19 for Vancouver Island as a result of smoke travelling from the Okanagan.
Fire Chief Lucas Banton of the Port Alberni area Cherry Creek VFD took a duty truck and two firefighters left with Tender 34 to Kelowna. Cherry Creek has a tender on stand-by at its fire hall. “Our firefighters are committed to keeping our hall staffed with dedicated volunteers even with three firefighters deployed,” they stated on their Facebook page. Some of the volunteers who remain at home carry their pagers 27 hours a day, seven days a week.
Sproat Lake VFD sent three members with Tender 45; within 12 hours of the request they were on scene and part of a task force, according to social media posts.
Beaver Creek VFD sent an engine and a crew of four to Kelowna on Friday, while remaining members held a planned open house at the Beaver Creek Fire Hall on Saturday, Aug. 19.
Firefighters demonstrated how they enter and exit buildings and small entrances, and put on fire-hose demonstrations in addition to answering questions from the public. There was also a barbecue.
The last time all three departments deployed personnel at the same time was in 2018, said Charlie Starratt, Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District’s regional fire services manager.
“They’re working as part of task groups (with) other departments,” some of them from elsewhere on Vancouver Island.
They will be working in the Kelowna and Shuswap regions of B.C.’s Okanagan region.
Fire departments across the province regularly train together and have done so since before the 2003 fires that also razed parts of Kelowna, destroying nearly 250 homes. “It’s (training) really progressed since then and has evolved to what it is today, which is a fairly well-functioning system,” Starratt said.
Port Alberni Fire Department has not been deployed to the Okanagan, fire Chief Mike Owens said. “We are supporting B.C. Wildfire by responding as an (initial attack) crew on the west side of the mid-Island fire zone.”
The PAFD will also step up its response to mutual aid calls from the regional fire departments, Starratt said.
While all departments have automatic aid calls—which brings out crews from all stations in the case of structure fires—a department can request “mutual aid,” which brings out additional support from a different department.
“We do talk to each other and say we may require help sooner rather than later in these (deployment) situations,” Starratt said.
Most of the Alberni Valley crews will be deployed for two weeks at a time, and rotate with another crew when necessary.
While the RCMP has sent members from around the province to assist Okanagan policing efforts, no front line officers from Port Alberni have been deployed yet, Port Alberni RCMP media liaison Const. Richard Johns said.
— With files from Ashley Wadhwani, Black Press Media