West Kelowna  

Drastic measures would have been taken to prevent the McDougall Creek fire from crossing Highway 97

Hwy 97 the line in the sand

Come hell or high water "we couldn't let that fire get across the highway under any circumstances."

Those words are from West Kelowna Fire Chief Jason Brolund on the early days of the McDougall Creek wildfire and a plan in place to bulldoze a significant number of homes to stop the fire from moving deep into the community.

If the fire had jumped Highway 97, it would have been able to cut a wide swath through the community.

"The way that fire moved and the pace it was advancing it forced us to look ahead and say where is this line in the sand and how do we make sure it doesn't go from a wildland urban interface fire to a building-to-building ignition in the most populated areas of the community," Brolund told Castanet News on Wednesday.

West Kelowna CAO Paul Gipps, during a panel discussion on wildfire preparedness at this week's Union of BC Municipalities Convention revealed plans were in place to take down a number of homes to keep the fire from moving further into the city.

“We had a tough decision to think about that night, whether or not we were going to take some very aggressive action to stop it," Gipps told those in attendance.

Brolund says the plan was his under authority given the city under the State of Local Emergency which still remains in effect.

"I would make the suggestion to Paul who was the EOC director at the time and he and I would work together on the mechanics of doing that if it came to that because that power rests in the EOC under the State of Emergency.

"It's something that him and I would work closely on but I'm glad it didn't come to that."

Brolund says conventional firefighting techniques suggests a natural break such as a highway is a good place to make that stand but adds fires such as these, with the ability to jump a lake, do not follow conventional wisdom.

Even taking down homes to add an additional fire barrier is a risk and no guarantee the fire will stay contained.

"What we weren't going to do is sit back. There were certain situations where it wasn't safe for us to be in and we needed to pull back and let the fire front pass and follow it from behind," he said.

"But in doing that, we are always looking for what is the best option for stopping this thing and, as Paul described some of those options were a lot more aggressive that others."

The plan was for a "worst case scenario" so a snap decision didn't have to be made in the spur of the moment.

"We know where the trigger points are, we know this is where we would do it and this is when we would do it — and we were fortunate we had time and had that plan in our back pocket.

"These are really tough decisions when you look at sacrificing some to save many. It's the thing you read about in textbooks but you never think you'll be there having to make those decisions."

As for the fire itself, Brolund says the cool, wet conditions offered over the past couple of days have assisted firefighing efforts immensely.

Things are progressing well, he says.

"The work that the BC Wildfire Service has done prior to and during this new Glen Lake incident has allowed the fire to stay relatively where it is," says Brolund.

"Those spots that are burning are well within the perimeter of the fire and the guarded area."

Brolund says there is optimism around the effort, but the level of comfort won't come until the snow flies.

He expects more evacuation orders and alerts will be lifted in the coming days.

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