Firestorm revisited nine years later
Aug 22, 2012 / 5:00 am
It was nine years ago today when more than 240 homes were lost in what then Kelowna Fire Chief Gerry Zimmermann called 'probably the roughest night in Kelowna firefighting history.'
"There was considerable loss overnight," stated Zimmermann stated the morning after.
"This fire is obviously the worst thing that we've ever seen in this city."
It was August 22, 2003, when the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire claimed 244 homes in the Upper Mission areas of Crawford Estates, Kettle Valley and portions of Viewcrest, Okaview, Chute Lake, Barnaby and Lakeshore Road.
The fire, which started from a lightning strike Saturday, August 16, reached nearly 2,000 hectares by the time winds picked up Monday, August 18.
By that fateful Friday nine years ago, the fire had grown to more than 17,000 hectares in size and forced the evacuation of 30,000 people, about one-third of the city's population back then.
About 20,000 people were evacuated during three separate evacuation orders that day alone.
Hundreds of firefighters from the Ministry of Forests, City of Kelowna plus fire crews from around the province were on the front lines battling what became a level six forest fire. Level six is the highest rating level.
Even Canada's military was called in to assist. They set up camp at the Apple Bowl and the Parkinson Rec Centre fields.
By midweek, the fire had reached 11,000 hectares
At the time, fire information officer Kevin Matuga says the "phenomenal" growth of the fire is beyond anything that crews have ever seen before.
"There's absolutely nothing our crews, or equipment, or helicopters can do to stop the fire from spreading that fast," stated Matuga.
The fire jumped a Ministry of Forests fire guard Thursday evening. It also took out 15 homes that evening in the Timberline, Rimrock Road and Lakeshore Road areas -- foreshadowing what would transpire 24 hours later.
Seventeen homes had also been saved.
Premier Gordon Campbell made stops in Kamloops and Kelowna Thursday to tour some of the harder hit areas.
"The fire has been growing in really reckless, volatile and erratic directions ... I'd like Mother Nature to help us out here," said Campbell.
About 10,000 people were evacuated from their homes on the 21st and, by 6 p.m. Friday, August 22, a further 20,000 people were ordered from their homes.
Police with bullhorns drove up and down streets advising people to leave immediately.
At 9:45 p.m., Fire Captain Len Moody addressed those in attendance at the Emergency Operations Centre.
In his words the fire is a 'war zone', a firestorm category six. Firefighters are battling walls of flame 400 feet high. With wind gusts of 60 to 70 km. per hour pushing the fire at 100 metres per minute tonight, Captain Moody feels fortunate no lives were lost. In two instances firefighters were trapped with flames all around and through the efforts of their colleagues battled their way out.
Fire Chief Gerry Zimmermann delivered the bad news late that evening that homes had been lost earlier in the evening during the firefighting effort. He had no firm number.
Saturday morning, it was announced 203 homes had been lost. That number was later revised upward to 244.
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