Just a few of the local community members and volunteer firefighters who came out by the dozens Monday night — even as darkness set on the community — to mitigate the potential for further damage caused by flooding in the Willowbrook community. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Willowbrook community rallies in state of local emergency

South Okanagan residents are preparing for flooding near Kearns Creek, where a dam is at capacity

A local state of emergency is being declared for the community of Willowbrook in the South Okanagan.

Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen chair Karla Kozakevich, made the declaration Tuesday morning for the properties in the vicinity of Kearns Creek.

As predicted Kearns Creek did rise six inches overnight.

RELATED: Kearns Creek dam near Willowbrook reaches capacity

The community of Willowbrook jumped into action on Monday helping the volunteer fire department fill and deploy sandbags.

About 50 volunteers loaded sandbags upon sandbags in preparation for what was expected to be a significant increase in the water level in the coming hours.

Efforts were spread out across the community in the evening, and even as daylight gave way to darkness, a couple dozen community members and volunteer firefighters were spotted loading sandbags at the community’s small firehall on Willowbrook Road.

“Fabulously,” Fire Chief Pat Lantz said of the community effort Monday night. “Everybody’s all hands on deck at this point in time. The rain has subsided. The water level is still rising at this point in time, so we’re just bagging like banshees and carrying on.”

Lantz expected to be pulling an all-nighter, alongside some sturdy volunteers, noting the water was still going up.

And the community did come together in a strong way Monday evening, with some bringing things like water and hot coffee to volunteers as the darkness set in.

“That’s what a small community does, right? You just keep going until you can’t go, and you give your best effort,” Jim Stanley said, adding he and his wife tried to add to the pool of treats for the community.

“I told my wife to go home and order a bunch of pizzas, and the pizza guys said ‘you’re too far, we won’t deliver to you.’ So you imagine: here we are in a crisis, and they won’t even come to the table. … It’s unbelievable. Here a bunch of people are pulling an all-nighter to try and save their homes and you can’t deliver a bunch of pizzas.

“There’s 20 pizzas or something coming,” he added, noting that would be a lot of business for the pizza shop.

He wasn’t sure which pizza shop it was that declined to deliver, but said it was in Oliver, which, according to Google Maps, is about 14 minutes away.

The community was initially in reaction mode from flooding that came from overflowing ponds uphill from the community. But as the evening wore on, a new issue arose, with a renewed urgency — the fire hall put out a notice on Facebook saying a dam uphill had been breached.

But Lantz later clarified the dam was at capacity and there had been a controlled spill to avoid a breach of the dam, which would flow through the valley in the area of the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory and into the Willowbrook area.

“There’s about 20 homes that are affected by it, but the worst is, I think, yet to come,” he said Monday evening.

“So over the next 12 hours, the controlled spill you’ll start to see it come through here, and that’s where we’re double bagging and getting it up higher.”

While there were 20 homes immediately affected, one resident pointed out that if things got worse, his home adjacent to that line of water could also be affected.

“I have water issues if the saturation gets to the point where the bowl is full, because it comes in from underground, through my basement,” said Jim Stanley.

He said if the water spilled into a particular low section, that could carry the water through parts of the community and into his property as well. This would be his second time getting flooded in a year, having been hit in last year’s floods.

The RDOS had previously delivered 2,000 sandbags and several loads of sand, but added to that after hours Monday night with an additional 24 yards of sand and 4,000 more sandbags.

The community was assisted by Keremeos and Oliver Fire Services.

Provincial agencies are on the ground assessing culverts and local dam infrastructure and working with the RDOS on this localized emergency response event.

The Emergency Operations Centre is continuing to remain open, for more information click here.


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