Thanks to Mother Nature and a lot of sweat equity, the White Lake Road/Willowbrook fire is more than 70 per cent contained.
The wildfire that broke out on Sunday afternoon, southwest of Okanagan Falls burned approximately 70 hectares of forest. By Monday morning it was 70 per cent contained, and fire officials were confident that full containment would be reached later that day.
Twelve homes on Yellowbrick Road and Willowbrook Road were still on evacuation alert as of Monday morning, but that order was expected to be lifted Monday evening.
“We’re still not out of the woods,” said forest protection officer Jim Mottishaw from the Wildfire Management Branch.
A press conference was held at the Willowbrook fire hall at 9 am Monday. Mottishaw was joined by Willowbrook Fire Chief Brad Fossett.
“We knew we were into a stage three fire because it was crawling into the trees,” Fossett said, recalling what he saw when he first arrived on scene Sunday at 3:30 pm.
He explained that 18 members of the fire department utilized four pieces of equipment to take up a defensive position and protect nearby properties.
“Our job was to pull back and protect the exposures, making sure the homes were protected,” Fossett said.
At one point the flames came within 300 yards of some homes, he stated. Luckily, Willowbrook Road acted as a barrier and air tanker support stopped the immediate threat. Firefighters were patrolling the road to make sure the blaze didn’t jump across.
Fossett noted they had a limited water source on the ground. But the biggest challenge was the wind, he pointed out. Winds of 25 km/h caused the fire to spread rapidly on Sunday.
“It was fast moving,” Mottishaw said, noting the blaze got into the timber, which created deadly snags that fire crews had to be wary of.
Mottishaw said ground crews did the majority of the work. He praised members of the Willowbrook Fire Department for their crucial role. In fact, he noted members took it upon themselves to extinguish a spot fire 300 metres up a steep slope –a job normally reserved for forestry crews. This fire had the potential to spread into a local subdivision, the Chronicle was told.
Fossett said it’s “boots on the ground” that contain fires, with help from Mother Nature.
He noted this fire was in rough terrain, so he didn’t want his members charging up there and being “cowboys.”
Mottishaw said the blaze was human caused, but it’s still too early to say how. The officer believes it started on the side of the road in a ditch. He said it could have been a cigarette or how someone parked his or her vehicle. Even a spark from a brake shoe could have been the culprit, he noted. According to Mottishaw, there were no campfires or all-terrain vehicles in the area when the fire broke out.
Willowbrook firefighters and forestry crews were assisted by Kaleden Fire Department, which took action on the north end of the fire.
There were no reports of any structures burned or people injured.
Fire crews expect to remain on scene for the next two or three days.
Fire information officer Melissa Welsh said this fire is a reminder to the public to be especially vigilant with their fire use . . . “or any spark-producing activity as we are experiencing high to extreme fire conditions.”