Thirteen members of the Wilson’s Landing fire department, including its chief, lost their homes in the McDougall Creek wildfire.
Fire chief Paul Zydowicz said Thursday the last week has been a fire chief’s “nightmare.”
“Two years ago as we worked the White Rock Lake fire, we thought at the time that it was the biggest fire of our lives. It pales to what we just experienced,” he said.
Zydowicz said in the case of the White Rock Lake fire, which ended up devastating Killiney Beach and Ewing just north, Zydowicz said his crews had the chance to prepare.
The McDougall Creek fire, fuelled by wind, tore down towards Okanagan Lake and was burning down homes only two days after it was discovered as a spot fire in the mountains outside the community.
“It was a violent event, the world shattered, the wind was 30 to 50 kilometres an hour with ember showers that were being driven from the mountain down into Traders Cove, and then at our firefighters,” Zydowicz said.
“As spot fires started around the community, we tried to get to the spot fires, and then the structures began to get engulfed.”
Crews eventually had to pull back for safety as the main fire blew through before re-entering the community in an attempt to save the homes that were not already burning.
Zydowicz said two firefighters were injured in the battle. One sustained burns to the face and another a broken wrist.
“They both called me immediately after being released from the hospital and said they want to be on the next shift,” he said.
Zydowicz said crews were battling flames while their own homes burned down all around them. But every single one of the firefighters who lost their homes has continued to work the fire.
“I have no words to describe the pride that I feel to be part of this team,” he said.
For a man who has just faced a firestorm and lost his home, Zydowicz was remarkably calm during a media availability on Thursday.
“I don't have a choice. I gotta keep going,” he said, crediting his wife for supporting him as they work with the insurance company and support groups.
“My shorts at the fire hall, that was the only thing that I owned as far as clothing goes. So I can't say enough about Mamas for Mamas, they really came out, they supported us with our personal items or toiletries or socks and underwear. You don't realize what you need until you realize you don't have it.”
Zydowicz says crews are working as hard as they can to return people to their homes.
He said a machine guard has been built by the BC Wildfire Service and a back burn will take place to create additional protection. Sprinkler crews are still on scene protecting structures and hot spots are being doused.
“I know you're tired of hearing it. We're tired of saying it, but we need your patience. We do not want to send anyone back into the area that is unsafe,” he said.
A total of 90 properties in the unincorporated areas of Westside Road were damaged or destroyed by fire. Officials have emphasized that figure is properties, not structures, as some properties like the Lake Okanagan Resort—also mostly destroyed—contains multiple structures.
There were 84 properties damaged in the City of West Kelowna and on WFN lands, four across the lake in Kelowna and three in Lake Country.