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West Kelowna, BC Ravaged by Wildfires, Leaving Over 50 Structures in Ruins

Dozens of structures have been completely or partially destroyed by wildfires in the British Columbia town of West Kelowna.

“At least 50 structures are confirmed destroyed by fire in that area … it’s reasonable to assume that most, if not all of these structures are homes,” British Columbia Premier David Eby told a news conference on Aug. 21.

“These are families who have lost everything. It is also probably news that is only going to get worse as assessments continue,” Mr. Eby said. “This is just our first assessment of West Kelowna. There are other communities that have lost homes and those assessments will come in and other information will be provided as it becomes available.”

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It’s the latest on the devastating wildfires threatening Kelowna and West Kelowna—districts separated by the Okanagan Lake. Other British Columbia communities, including the Shuswap region, are also under threat.

British Columbia’s Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma told reporters 27,000 people have been evacuated throughout the province, and some 35,000 are on evacuation alert.

“This highlights the scale of the challenge that our emergency management teams and first responders are facing … the wildfire situation continues to be extremely serious, impacting tens of thousands of people,” Ms. Ma said.

So far, there has been no reported loss of life.

“We have not been made aware of any impacts to humans,” said Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations for the B.C. Wildfire Service. “But that doesn’t mean that we may not in the coming days.”

Minister of Forests Bruce Ralston said some 386 fires are burning around the province and 14 are considered fires of note. Facing the fires are 3,500 British Columbia wildfire service personnel along with over 600 municipal firefighters who specialize in protecting buildings like homes.

“These brave men and women are demonstrating the meaning of courage in the face of the worst wildfire season in British Columbia’s history,” said Ms. Ma.

“Some of these brave firefighters had to witness their own homes succumb to the flames while they turned their attention to protecting the homes of their neighbours and fellow community members,” she said. “To go through that emotional toil while selflessly protecting the homes of their neighbours and community members speaks to the character of our firefighting community.”

She also praised the response of countless volunteers and businesses who have been doing what they can to help.

“People have opened their hearts and their homes to their neighbours. Businesses and restaurants have been bending over backwards to support their communities,” Ms. Ma said. “People from all walks of life are coming together to care, protect, and support one another. This is a team effort. This is exactly what we need.”

Not everyone received praise. Ms. Ma also warned that people must respect evacuation orders.

“You may think that you are helping yourself or your neighbours by staying behind, or supporting individuals who are staying behind with food or supply runs, but you are not. You’re making a highly dangerous situation even more dangerous for everyone involved,” she said. She also asked people to have an emergency kit ready to go.

Firefighting Equipment Removed

There have also been instances of firefighting equipment disappearing, leading officials to strongly denounce those responsible.

“This is not acceptable under any circumstances,” said Mr. Ralston. “The first responders are literally putting their lives on the line to protect people’s homes and livelihoods. They should not have to be concerned about whether their equipment will be there when they need it.”

Mr. Chapman said the B.C. Wildfire Service’s priority is to protect people and property and said there are several serious fires across the province.

“We are not only prioritizing the McDougal fire in West Kelowna and Kelowna, we have multiple priority fires across the province,” he said, “particularly centred in the southern portion of the province.”

“We evaluate daily ground operations and make decisions on moving resources based on where the most potential and significant impact of the fires will be to life and property,” he added.

Mr. Chapman also highlighted one strategy fire crews have been using called “planned ignition.” This technique involves preemptively burning the forest in the path of a fire to deprive it of fuel.

“When conditions are as

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