West Kelowna  

Inside the tent city

BC Wildfire Service firefighters have been working tirelessly on flood protection barriers since first setting up camp 38 days ago in West Kelowna.

Crews from 30 different regions across the province were called in shortly after Mayor Colin Basran’s urgent message to residents warning them of the impact flood water could have on their homes.

Hundreds of green and blue tents have taken over Westbank First Nation Land and have become home base for the firefighters on rotation.

Firefighters have been sandbagging for 10 hours a day, seven days a week. Curfew is 11 p.m. at the camp, meals are prepared and served on the land, and no alcohol is to be consumed at any point when crews are in town.,

“This is a pretty standard set up for us,” said Colby Olsen, Wildfire Crew Supervisor.

He added the camp is very similar to what they would experience fighting fires, but the work is quite different.

“We don’t often get a chance to work out in the communities like this and interacting with the people that we helping out so that has been really positive working right in people’s backyard and urban areas is a little different for us,” Olsen said.

The white pick-up trucks filled with individuals decked in red shirts and blue pants has been a comforting sight for many residents over the past few weeks.

Firefighter Stefan Nicholishen said sandbagging is very meticulous work but that it is nice to be around the public and help out when they can.

“Our fingers and hand gets really sore and our lower back, but you warm up through the day and it gets better,” he said.

Many of the firefighters have taken a beating from the repetitive work.

West Kelowna Assistant Fire Chief Darren Lee said they are seeing a lot of aggravated backs, wrists and fingers and asked many of them to make sure you are managing their injuries.

“It’s early in your fire season and I want you guys to be healthy so you can help the rest of the province out and not burn yourself out here in West Kelowna.”

It is not yet determined when the firefighters will complete their work in Kelowna and many have already started their second rotation.

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