Relief for West Kelowna residents returning home
Patty Hebert's shoulders sagged in an apparent show of relief Monday, as she got word the evacuation order on her West Kelowna neighbourhood had been rescinded.
She and her husband Ray had been living out of their motorhome as crews battled back the Smith Creek fire, which at times seemed precariously close to their home of four years at Mountain Hollow Lane. At its worst Thursday evening, flames were 200 metres from houses at the top of Tallus Ridge.
"It's been really hard on them," said the Heberts's daughter, Marely Hall. "We've been hoping and praying they'd get to go home today. It's been stressful."
The strain caused by wildfires encroaching on neighbourhoods is all too familiar for Hall, who had just started to get back into the swing of everyday life after being evacuated, herself.
Her parents were among the last to be granted permission to return home, but Hall was among the 2,000 area residents who were given the go-ahead a day earlier.
"You just feel so … displaced," she said, of the experience, as helicopters whirled above her Cobblestone Road home.
The hulking machines were on a regular loop between Shannon Lake, where they were scooping up water, to the centre of the fire in the hills above the residential area.
By Monday afternoon, the BC Wildfire Management Branch was saying the 260 hectare fire was 60 per cent contained, but fires within the perimeter would continue to burn and be visible for several weeks, thus the continued presence of fire crews.
Despite all that, Hall said she felt at peace.
"There really is no place like home. I slept like a baby last night, but for the few days before there was no rest," she said.
"I was just up at all hours, following the news every moment."
And it wasn't a stress free event for her two young children, either. Her nine-year-old daughter cut-short a summer vacation in the Lower Mainland to be closer to her family as the fire raged on.
That said, Hall was quick to note that friends, family and the security of a close-knit community lightened the pressures stemming from the evacuation that ran from Thursday to Sunday.
As part of the Tallus Ridge neighbourhood she was kept abreast of all that was happening from an internal newsletter of sorts that's on Facebook, and there some community members actually took it upon themselves to go door-to-door to make sure everyone was OK.
"So many people have been so gracious," she said.
It's through that same neighbourhood news portal that she learned that not everyone was inspired by the bonds of a community in need.
Just a minute walk from her own doorstep, her neighbour was victimized while the evacuation order was in effect.
At a home situated on the corner of Tallus Ridge Drive and Cobblestone Road, a door had been jimmied open so looters could sift through the belongings of the Dodd family.
Little was believed to be missing, but Hall said she felt for the family who had already been through so much.
"It's just inhumane," she said.
Police had no other reports of looting during the evacuation, but it has become a regular feature during summer fires—a stark contrast to the manner in which the rest of the community behaves in crisis.
West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater praised all of the firefighters, Emergency Operations Centre staff and RCMP involved in fighting the fire for risking their lives to help save the community. He also issued a plea to everyone travelling through, or living in West Kelowna, to be vigilant about fire, cigarettes and other hazards, which could cause another blaze.
"We really appreciate the support we received from the community in helping people who are still out (of their homes)," said Mayor Doug Findlater. "We had some great support from residents, in terms of places to stay, and some businesses."
The Evacuation Order remains in effect for eight large, rural, private properties in the interface areas immediately above Smith Creek,Tallus Ridge and Shannon Woods Neighbourhoods, including all properties accessed off Dixie Road.
The Smith Creek Fire remains active and residents returning to their homes will remain on Evacuation Alert and should be prepared to leave their homes on short notice.
The public have been advised to stay out of fire-affected areas for their own safety and obey all warning and hazards signs.
The Evacuation Order area, including parks, trails and public and private lands, remains closed to the public, including Wildhorse Park and Tallus Park. Residents are asked if they see any fire activity related to the Smith Creek fire, not to call 9-1-1 as crews will still be actively working in the area and monitoring the situation.
RCMP will be in the area to ensure an orderly re-entry and to enforce road blocks in areas where Evacuation Orders are still in effect.
When returning home, watch out for:
• Charred power poles and trees that may be unstable and fall.
• Live power lines lying on the ground.
• Small fires that may flare up without warning.
• Ash pits, which are holes filled with hot ash created by burned trees.
Go to www.cordemergency.ca for the latest news and updated maps of the Evacuation Order and Evacuation Alert areas. Read updated posts at www.facebook.com/CORDEmergency or follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/CO_Emerg. The public information line is 250-469-8490.