Heroes’ welcome as firefighters, support crews thanked for battling McDougall Creek wildfire – Okanagan

It was a heroes’ welcome in West Kelowna, B.C., on Saturday morning.

At Memorial Park, first responders from local firehalls, police, ambulance crews, BC wildland firefighters and emergency support services were thanked for their efforts during last summer’s destructive McDougall Creek wildfire.

“Not only fighting the fire but people who secured that were evacuated … so a big, big effort by a lot of people,” said Tom Groat, chair of the Okanagan Responders Gratitude event.

“So we felt our community needed to reach out and make it an official gratitude event.”

Click to play video: 'Global BC Presents: West Kelowna fire chief Jason Brolund'

Global BC Presents: West Kelowna fire chief Jason Brolund

Volunteers, local businesses and organizations spent months planning Saturday’s celebration.

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West Kelowna fire chief Jason Brolund, who became the reluctant face of the blaze, acknowledged the community’s strength and its losses.

“Every time I’m asked to share about the fire, I think about Wilson’s Landing and the 13 firefighters who lost their homes, watched them burn,” said Brolund.

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The fire chief also recognized the hard work that BC wildland firefighters put in — all during a difficult summer in which six firefighters died.

Four were killed in a head-on collision on Highway 1 near Kamloops. Devyn Gale, 19, was killed by a falling tree while Zak Muise, 25, died when his ATV rolled over a steep drop on a road.

Click to play video: 'Early start to fire season in B.C. interior'

Early start to fire season in B.C. interior

“We think about Devyn and the five firefighters who lost their lives fighting fires in this province,” said Brolund.

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The McDougall Creek blaze was one of nearly 2,300 wildfires spread across the province last year and was one of the most destructive.

It scorched 13,500 hectares, destroyed 191 buildings and took weeks to get it under control.

“Certainly all of the responders (deserve thanks), but also the community,” said West Kelowna’s mayor, Gord Milson, adding the city is now “more of a caring community than we were before.”

The attendance at Saturday’s gathering confirmed Milsom’s comment, which Brolund backed.

“The outpouring of support from the community, to see a lot of the other first responders who were here last summer and receive some of that (support), it’s overwhelming,” said Brolund.

“It’s also a chance for me to say thank you to everybody, from the firefighters to you name it, even members of the public who brought things to the firehall to take care of us.”

Click to play video: 'Firefighters receiving mental health supports'

Firefighters receiving mental health supports

The fire chief also gave a tip to the public.

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“The public asks me: What can they do to support us,” said Brolund.

“My answer now is firesmart your home, get ready for the next wildfire season.

“Even if we don’t experience a major wildfire this summer, we will again. Do those simple things around your home. It will help us protect your home if we need to.”

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