Okanagan Mountain Park Fire
Firestorm '03: As The Fire Raged
Aug 24, 2013 / 5:00 am
This is the 10th anniversary of Firestorm - the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire that gripped Kelowna and brought the world to our doorstep during the latter half of August, 2003. Castanet reporter Wayne Moore has put together a series of stories looking at the fire and the people whose lives were changed forever.
It was 15 minutes the world watched over and over and over again.
'As The Fire Raged' chronicled the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire from its earliest stages, utilizing freshly captured video and still images from various vantage points up close and from points on the westside and Okanagan Lake.
The video was produced by Media Button, at the time a newly created multi-media company.
Company owner Dave Araki, himself a former radio personality in Kelowna, says the idea to film the fire came from Westside Fire Chief, Wayne Schnitzler.
Both happened to be at a barbeque for the Westside Volunteer Fire Department on Aug. 16 of 2003, the day the lightning strike hit Squally Point.
"I had a brand new camera and I happened to bring it with me to the barbeque and did some filming when word got out there was a fire," recalled Araki.
"Wayne looked at me and said you should go out there and get some pictures. I know a couple of fire fighters who went down (to the fire) so I brought my camera and tripod. That was the inspiration - new camera, news of a fire and a Fire Chief who said you should go."
If you have ever met Dave (I worked for him for 13 years), you'll know he's passionate to a fault.
When he finds a project that peaks his interest he becomes obsessed 24/7.
So it was with this fire.
"The first three days were really a fluke. Pop over there and get some shots (Saturday)," says Araki.
"The next day we were boating and I had an incredible zoom so that's where I got all the bomber shots."
But it was Monday when the fire first crested the hill for all in Kelowna to see that Araki found the fire 'up close and personal.'
"I remember that night well. My nephew from Alberta would always come and visit for a week in the summer," recalls Araki.
"That night I asked him what he wanted to do. I gave him a few options - go to a movie, go for a cruise or drive around and see if we could get video of the fire."
The fire was the winner hands down.
"It was a family event to some degree and I had gained interest."
The footage was dramatic but Araki admits many were relative to the camera's zoom capabilities.
"We were certainly clear of the bombers and the helicopters. We were ignorant to the fact we were in some areas we probably shouldn't have been," admits Araki.
"I never felt in danger with one exception when we were deep into the woods to get some shots and some workers were coming out in a rush. I thought then maybe going further in wasn't a good idea."
Araki says the following morning he brought the raw footage into the office and played it for some of the staff.
One of his employees who also worked for CBC suggested he contact one of the TV stations.
"We called CTV out of the blue and they happened to arrive that day. They asked me to come to their truck on the westside and show them the footage," says Araki.
CTV used the footage and hired Araki and his company to film portions of the fire including the arrival of the army giving him closer access to the fire and those closest to it.
"We had also started to edit the video for our own use and that's when we gave it to Castanet," says Araki.
"We knew the interest was there."
The interest was too overwhelming. The video, it's length and popularity crashed Castanet, forcing it to be taken down.
"We contacted Telus' head office in Calgary. They agreed, given the situation, to donate the infrastructure and bandwidth to run that video," says Araki.
That donation allowed the video to go back up on Castanet.
"They had the means to handle capacities that were beyond most organizations at the time. There were times when there were hundreds of simultaneous views at any one time," says Araki.
"It was amazing the types of volume that was happening."
The video would be viewed more than 100,000 times over a three week period.
Araki believes the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, punctuated by the views the video received, showed off the power of the internet and the ability for people to be on top, get involved and be involved.
"I remember during the fire thinking CNN had some key moments that put it on the map," says Araki citing the OJ Simpson trial, Iraq War and 911.
"Very key moments that took television news to a different level."
"What happened in Kelowna was that Castanet took internet communications to an entirely different level. The world could tune in when they wanted to - and they wanted to."
As the fire died down Araki took his footage and still images from Castanet and other sources to cut the final video 'As The Fire Raged.'
The video was dedicated to 'Those who lost, those who help and those who cared.'
"I remember tearing up constantly while editing. I would sit at home literally all night editing - it would break me up many times," says Araki.
"In the ending of the video after the fact in summarizing it, the magic of the story was to go through everything the city and all the people went through, and not have a loss of life. That was quite amazing."
Araki admits to being quite naive back in 2003, as many in Kelowna were, to the power of Mother Nature and especially fire.
"My appreciation is at a completely different level."
That point was driven home just a few weeks ago.
"We were boating when the Kalamoir Park Fire broke out. That is right by our house," says Araki.
"We motored home, made two phone calls and had our entire house photo library, video, and essentials packed up and ready to go. We kept them in our garage in the back of our truck for four days after that."
He says he didn't think he would have taken that kind of action before.
"I realized how quick things can happen. It was the closest I have even been," says Araki.
"I had a moment thinking we had 15 or 30 minutes to get everything we possibly could out of there. I felt that fear from a different level but it had logic and experience behind it."
A logic and experience gained by the population of an entire city and region.
Tomorrow: Was Sir Winston Churchill right?
Read more Okanagan Mountain Park Fire articles
- Firestorm '03: Kelowna's finest hour Aug 25
- Firestorm '03: As The Fire Raged Aug 24
- Firestorm '03: Time to re-build Aug 23
- Firestorm '03: Aug. 22 'Like a war zone' Aug 22
- Firestorm '03: Hell on the front lines Aug 21