West Kelowna  

Glenrosa 2009 to now

As firefighters work for a second day to try and get the upper hand on the 200 hectare plus Smith Creek Wildfire it's important to note Friday is the fifth anniversary of the Glenrosa Fire.

That fire, on a hot summer Saturday, sprung up at about 3 p.m. It was a day our biggest concern was what to put on the barbeque and whether we needed more sun screen.

While both fires impacted the lives of those in the immediate danger area, West Kelowna Fire Chief, Wayne Schnitzler says there are big differences between Glenrosa in 2009 and today's fire.

"That's the difference with a downwind fire that's hitting a subdivision with very little time to react. We didn't have a lot of time to react in Glenrosa," says Schnitzler.

"With this fire we've been able to look at where it's going, where it might go and make good decisions to get people in a safe area so they are away from the fire if it does go in those directions."

Both fires, says Schnitzler, are wind driven meaning he is limited with the type of action he can take.

Experience, Schnitzler says, means it's difficult to put fire personnel in danger when winds are involved.

"We really had a lot of practice in 03 (Okanagan Mountain Park) - I can go back to how many fires we've had and over the years we have learned there is a time we can get in there and assist," says Schnitzler.

"Compared to 2009 we had other things to worry about like a sawmill and a lot more wind driving a downhill fire. This one is up in the hills and giving us a bit of time so we can make good evacuation orders and get people out in time."

So, what has happened in five years - what have we learned?

According to Schnitzler, the mantra remains the same.

Hit it hard, hit it fast and pray Mother Nature is on your side.

He also says people have to understand fighting fires is a complex endeavor

He says tough decisions have to be made for either safety or practical reasons.

"I heard people say where's the planes, where's the planes. The Ministry of Forests are good at what they do and when they decide to pull off air support it's because air support isn't doing anything with the fire behaviour," says Schnitzler.

"When a fire hits rank four and five and it's jumping trees, it's also jumping retardant lines. Basically they are putting retardant down for nothing. It's a tough call for them but you have to make that call sometimes."

And, as was the case in 2009 and back in 2003 during the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, conditions are tinder dry.

The fire rating is already extreme and it's only the middle of July.

"This fire was spotted by our crews working on the Boucherie fire. They saw a wisp of smoke come up and by time we got here it was already a raging fire jumping into the trees. That's how quickly it moved," says Schnitzler.

"People that come in and go into the backcountry have to be ultra careful because anything can start a fire."

The number of fires throughout the Okanagan over the past few weeks is concerning for Schnitzler who worries about fatigue on the fire lines.

" My biggest concern is we have lots of people working lots of hours and we want to make sure we keep them safe and make sure they don't get injured or hurt on the fire lines. We don't want any of our citizens to get hurt and that's why we evacuate them and put them in a safe area so we can do our job."







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