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Kelowna wildfire evacuees in Vernon praying they have a home to return to

Hundreds registering at ESS from multiple fires burning

Fintry residents Real Gousy and Rick Walker fled to Vernon from a fire near their home, for the third time in several years Friday.

But this time, the couple’s dog came with them.

“The last two times we lost a dog each time,” said Walker, 67. “They couldn’t breath.”

Just as he finished explaining how the thick smoke and ash was too much for the pups, their little shih tzu began to cough.

The loving couple calmed eight-year-old Elsa down and held her, then wiped her watering big eyes.

“It’s a lot on her too,” said Walker, ahead of registering at the Emergency Support Services (ESS) reception centre at Kal Tire Place in Vernon.

It was a long morning for the couple, and hundreds of other West Kelowna and Westside residents evacuated due to the McDougall Creek wildfire, which jumped the lake to the Glenmore area overnight Aug. 17.

READ MORE: Wildfires: 4,500 British Columbians on evacuation order

“I could see it coming from West Kelowna and it was coming pretty fast so we had to evacuate pretty fast,” said Gousy, 75.

“I hope the house will still be there.”

Not only did they lose dogs in 2015 and 2021, they also lost their Killiney cabin to the White Rock Lake wildfire.

“It’s devastating,” said Walker, who has a sister in Enderby they are able to stay with.

Good news, as all hotels in Vernon are full, according to ESS volunteers.

They hope it won’t be as long of an evacuation in the past. They were out for three weeks in 2021 and two weeks the time before.

“Maybe we won’t be able to go back,” said Gousy.

Walker, a musician and retired Kelowna teacher, also lost a piano in the cabin fire. He’s hoping he doesn’t lose another home or piano, but in the end he has all he needs.

“If it goes, it goes. It’s only material stuff. We are safe and we have Elsa and we have each other.”

The ESS centre at Kal Tire Place has seen hundreds of evacuees, beginning Thursday night and well into Friday.

“We had lots last night,” said volunteer Rose. “We’ve had lots of people sleeping on the floor.”

They even had 17 international students evacuated, but thankfully accommodations were found for them.

“And lots of tourists. We are encouraging tourists to head home and a lot of them are.”

Residents are reminded to be ready at a moments notice to leave.

“We were all ready,” said Gousy, who had clothes, vitamins, medications, lap tops, phones and chargers all packed. “We got everything last night before we went to bed.”

As the wildfire situation continues to evolve in the Okanagan, Vernon residents are encouraged to take some time to consider whether they are prepared to face an emergency, and if not, what simple steps could be taken right away.

“This is an important question for all residents and visitors to consider,” the city said.

Stay informed on the latest wildfire information and evacuation notices in the Okanagan and across B.C. by visiting accurate and reliable information sources such as reputable news outlets, BC Wildfire Service, Regional District of Central Okanagan.)

Receive emergency updates from the city of Vernon by signing up to receive notifications through Alertable or stay up-to-date with email updates through the city website.

You can also follow the city on social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Have an emergency plan

An emergency plan is a playbook for how you and your household will respond to disasters, including wildfires. Knowing what to do will reduce anxiety and help keep you focused and safe. Start by downloading a fill-in-the-blanks emergency plan. When you’re done, communicate your plan with everyone in your household, and make copies for grab-and-go bags at home, at work and in your vehicle.

Refresh your grab and go bags

In the event of a wildfire, you may need to leave home quickly. Take time now to build grab-and-go bags for each member of your household so you’re not caught off guard. Do you have pets? Do you have young children? Are you a foster parent? Are you caring for seniors or people with disabilities? If yes, prepare and customize bags specific to their needs.

Prepare your home

We all play a critical role in mitigating wildfire risks around our homes and properties by undertaking FireSmart activities. Simple measures can make a significant difference to the survivability of structures by decreasing the intensity of a wildfire and slowing its spread.

Ensure your vehicle has fuel The tank should always be at least half-full.

Share information If you know someone who may not have access to the internet or regular news updates, share emergency preparedness information and resources with them.

Know where to go With limited hotel and camping accommodations available during the high summer season, consider making a plan to stay with family or friends in a safe location, in the event of an evacuation.

READ MORE: Vernon businesses pitch in wildfire support to evacuees



Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

Vernon has always been my home, and I've been working at The Morning Star since 2004.
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