A property owner on Bear Creek Road in West Kelowna approached Black Press with concerns surrounding firefighting efforts in the early days of the McDougall Creek blaze.
The property owner asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons and concerns about looting at what’s left of his home. For this story, he will be referred to as D.
The McDougall Creek fire sparked around 6 p.m. on Aug. 15. By the morning of Aug. 17 the wildfire had reached 300 hectares and was spreading toward West Kelowna.
D watched the fire encroach on the area that morning and run down the ridge behind his home.
The evacuation order came down at 1:25 p.m. that day, and D said he left his property at about 4 p.m. “I was looking and I didn’t see a helicopter, I didn’t see fire retardant, I didn’t see nothing (sic) and I knew we had to go.”
That evening, security cameras around the property alerted D to movement and he knew his home, garage, chicken coop, garden, and meat shed were being overtaken by flames.
D fears his home, along with neighbouring properties, was left to burn, stating he never saw fire trucks, aircraft, or other officials in the area before the fire’s rapid spread. It’s also believed the expensive construction of the new Rose Valley Water Treatment Facility was made a priority in structure protection over people’s homes.
He isn’t the only one to express concern over what seemed to be a lack of air support to douse the fire in the first 36 hours as posts circulated on social media with similar questions.
According to BC Wildfire Service, the fire behaviour was too aggressive for aircraft to be used and in too steep of terrain for ground personnel.
In an email to Black Press, BC Wildfire Service stated that fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft were used in the first 48 hours.
“Extreme fire behaviour limited the use of aerial resources as suppression objectives are no longer achievable when fire behaviour becomes extremely vigorous and moves into the tree canopies.” Heavy smoke also posed a challenge.
West Kelowna Fire Chief Jason Brolund told Black Press that “it is absolutely untrue that homes were left to burn.” Brolund stated that as long as it was safe for firefighters they were on the ground actively protecting properties.
In terms of priority for the water treatment plant, Brolund said the protection work was conducted by Sprinkler Protection crews, rather than those actively fighting the fire.
Although D didn’t see officials in the area at the time the evacuation order came down, Kelowna RCMP has confirmed with Black Press that they had boots on the ground knocking on doors to make sure residents were aware of the situation. A spokesperson noted that residents may have left their property before officers came knocking.
The McDougall Creek wildfire continues to wreak havoc and about 400 properties remain evacuated at this time. The wildfire has destroyed or damaged nearly 200 properties.