BC Wildfire Service firefighters at the Eagle Bluff wildfire burning about 10 kilometres south of Okanagan Falls. (Photo courtesy of BC Wildfire)

South Okanagan pays it forward to BC Wildfire Service firefighters

Community members thank Eagle Bluff firefighters through Tim Hortons donations

Tim Hortons customers are known for paying it forward, however the manager of a South Okanagan location said a recent outpouring of support for wildfire firefighters went above and beyond.

It took just one day after the Eagle Bluff wildfire started, in the Gallagher Lake region about 15 kilometres north of Oliver, for donations to start to pour in.

READ MORE: Wildfire crews credited with saving Okanagan raptor rehab centre

“That very next day (Aug. 5) a lady came through and handed us $20 to pay for the firefighters food and by the end of the day we were getting $50 and $20 handed to us at a time from a bunch of customers. It was just incredible. We didn’t ask anyone, they were doing it out of their own gratitude because they would drive through and see the fire crews setting up just outside of our store in the morning,” said Shelley Kalmback, manager of the Tim Hortons store just south of Gallagher Lake at the Gulf gas station.

With two of her employees’ residences, and the store itself — which did close down one night as the flames grew closer on the mountainside, located in what was an evacuation alert zone, the kind gesture for the wildfire firefighters hit home for the Tim Hortons workers.

READ MORE: RDOS rescinds evacuation alert for 41 properties near Eagle Bluff

“These firefighters were coming off shift tired, worn out, sooty looking and they were exhausted. Whether it was the morning shift coming in or the night shift coming off 12 hours of work they always had smile and were polite and friendly,” said Kalmback. “I’m getting teary-eyed talking about it, it was so incredible to see something like this. I know a lot of people gave that really don’t have a lot of money to give, but they wanted to do something to say thank you.”

Kalmback said the firefighters were gracious in taking the support and their debit cards and cash to pay for their own meals kept being denied because the community kept paying it forward to them.

“The firefighters were in absolute shock and couldn’t believe the community was doing this for them. The firefighters were looking at me saying ‘we are just doing our job’ and I would remind them that this is a small community and we stick together around here. It has been an emotional 10-plus days,” said Kalmback.

The Tim Hortons manager said the “war zone” type sounds of helicopters and planes buzzing overhead to help support the ground crews is starting to subside and life is starting to settle back in to normal.

BC Wildfire has classified the Eagle Bluff fire as held, meaning they are not expecting it to grow any further than the 2,632 hectares that it reached. A decrease in resources is anticipated as they take a modified response approach to the north flank. Areas of the fire that posed a threat to buildings have been fully suppressed and currently in patrol status thanks to the successful planned ignitions to move the fire into the controlled zones.

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