Merritt Fire Department and the City of Merritt were recognized by the display of solidarity and community spirit.

In a letter, West Kelowna’s Mayor Gord Milsom expressed his gratitude and appreciation to the City of Merritt and the Merritt Fire Department for their support during wildfires that happened in August this year.

“We cannot thank you enough for sending such outstanding firefighters who put their lives on the line each and every day to help our community,” the letter reads. “There simply are no words of thanks that run deep enough to show our gratitude.”

According to the City of West Kelowna website, the McDougall Creek wildfire started on Aug. 15. Over 10,000 residents in West Kelowna were evacuated over three days, as the largest wildfire in the history of the city continued to spread.

Alongside BC Wildfire Service and more than 500 firefighters from other municipalities, the Merritt Fire & Rescue Department was also deployed to support Central Okanagan communities to combat the devastating wildfire in the region. 

Mayor Milsom added that West Kelowna will repay the support if Merritt is ever in need during a crisis.

“Please know that we are here for you should a wildfire crisis happen in your community,” the mayor said in the letter. “There is no doubt that there are unprecedented times and we are stronger together.”

Merritt Fire Department Chief David Tomkinson said that “over the past two decades, we have taken great pride in extending firefighting support to various communities through Provincial deployments.”

“Our inaugural experiences unfolded during the summer of 2003, when we responded to the Okanagan Park and Neskonlith Lake Fires,” the chief said in an email. “Since then, we’ve actively collaborated with numerous fire departments, participating in Task Forces dedicated to safeguarding structures in regions such as the Caribou, Okanagan and Lytton.”

Chief Tomkinson added that this year, the Merritt Fire Department has found themselves in an unfamiliar position of seeking support rather than providing it. 

In late July, a hog fuel fire erupted on the former Tolko mill property. Chief Tomkinson said the fire was quite the challenge as the fire posed a direct threat to residential neighbourhoods.

“This served as a stark reminder that even a small community, despite its dedication and efforts, has finite firefighting resources,” he said. “The relief we experienced when firefighting assistance from other communities arrived emphasized the crucial role of mutual aid, maintaining strong relationships with neighbouring communities, and the collaboration required to address emergencies of such magnitude.”