Vancouver Island fire crews return home from Kelowna, recounting devastation and gratitude


As some lucky Okanagan residents are allowed to return home, Vancouver Island fire crews who raced to help them are also returning.

“Our job was to protect houses as we could,” said Tristan Gentile, a volunteer firefighter with Central Saanich Fire.

Crews from Central Saanich Fire were assigned to work in Lake Country, where they worked to protect homes like Malindi Elmore’s.

“We wouldn’t have a home to come back to if they hadn’t come,” Elmore told CHEK News on Aug. 22.

Many like Elmore were watching, even speaking, with the firefighters fighting to keep their homes safe through their security cameras.

“The majority of the houses where we were all have a live stream security system. So a lot of the time, as we were entering into someone’s property to check on backyards and look for fire, they were communicating with us through their cameras, expressing their appreciation for us being there,” said Gentile.

“It’s kinda a surreal experience when you’re just kinda doing your job checking for hot spots, and you hear a voice from behind you thanking you.”

Deep in the thick of the McDougall fire in West Kelowna was Port Alberni’s Beaver Creek Fire Department.

“For miles, it’s just black and burnt, and the homes are gone,” said Beaver Creek Fire Chief Mike Kobus.

Kobus says the devastation he and his crew saw around them was pulled sharply into focus when they found out some of the firefighters working beside them were among those who had lost everything.

“When you’re working side by side with members of this department and find out that 14 people have lost their homes, and yet they’re still out there, helping, is pretty honourable,” said Kobus.

“I was going to myself, ‘What are you doing here?’ They would say, ‘Well, I could be at home thinking about everything, or I could be out here helping.”

Now, thanks for their services keep streaming in.

A family from Upper Canyon in Kelowna gave hugs of thanks to Central Saanich’s crew on Monday.

“Kelowna is going through some tough times, as is the majority of B.C. in the interior, so whatever we can do to give back to the province and help out where we can,” said Gentile.

These Island firefighters say they may be home but are keenly aware of the thousands of people they left behind who are now trying to pick themselves up in the aftermath.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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