WATCH: Some of the evacuees chased out of the Kettle Valley campground by the fire finally got to collect their belongings today. Everyone — even those who lost everything — are thanking fire crews and the community of Midway. Nadia Stewart reports.
Thirty homes have been confirmed lost in an immense wildfire in British Columbia’s Boundary region, several days after the blaze sparked and forced hundreds from their homes.
The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary said Sunday that 11 other structures that were not homes were also lost in the 37-square-kilometre blaze near the tiny community of Rock Creek.
The district said it was contacting all homeowners whose properties were lost.
Some evacuation orders were downgraded to alerts meaning the occupants of 88 homes and businesses were allowed to return, but others remained in force.
The district said the RCMP continues to patrol evacuated areas to ensure safety and security.
Kerstin Klenheimer and her husband deserted their house when the 37-square-kilometre Rock Creek fire broke out Thursday evening. On Sunday she stood next to a charred piece of property on the side of a highway and stared into the distance at the fire burning near her house.
“It was like a tornado coming — a fire tornado coming up the valley,” she said, recalling the moments before their hasty departure. “There was no time. You just have to run.”
As of Sunday, Klenheimer still had no idea whether her home was still standing.
“(My) worst fear is that everything is gone,” she said. “We built the home 10 years ago — 10 years of effort just going up in smoke is very devastating.”
Campers who were ushered from Kettle River Provincial Park without their belongings on Thursday night were escorted in small groups back to the park on Sunday.
Highway 3 has re-opened and a section of Highway 33 remains closed from Rock Creek to Beaverdell.
Those living in and around the communities of Rock Creek and Westbridge are wondering what the future will hold.
“It’s heartbreaking. Heartbreaking. I don’t know if we even have a town anymore,” said resident Katherine Buck, a day after evacuating her Westbridge home.
Rob and Melanie Hardy were also chased from their home in Westbridge when the flames began to encroach.
“Literally, the tree tops were bursting like bombs and falling down on the top of our house,” Rob told media outside a Kelowna church that has been turned into an evacuation centre.
“The wind was just carrying (the embers) for miles and miles … I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The Hardys made the difficult decision to let their horses run wild with the hope of saving them.
Rob said he opened a gate and let the animals go down the Trans Canada trail.
“Oddly enough, they actually went towards the fire at first, (but) I think they were just very confused. Once we got them turned around, they just took off for the river. That’s the last I saw of them.”
WATCH: Wildfire evacuation centres set up for Rock Creek victims
Midway epicenter of relief efforts: how you can help
There are still 116 people in the Kelowna emergency reception centre, but the majority of those evacuated, approximately 500, are in Midway.
The small town to the east of Rock Creek normally has a population of 600. With its ranks doubled in the past 48 hours, the people of Midway have stepped up with shelter and donations.
“The community’s being fantastic. It’s amazing. The amount of people with food, and water, and even things for dogs…it’s truly lovely to see this,” said Mark Tulip.
His Maple Ridge family was camping at Kettle River when the fire broke out.
“There was no time to get anything. The fire was surrounding us. It jumped the river, so we thought we’re not even safe in the river,” said Laurie Tulip.
“I thought we were going to die. I thought we were going to burn. The wind was blowing, and it was coming for us.”
They escaped and are grateful for the support they’re receiving.
“It’s amazing. It really is. When you have nothing. When people are giving,” said Laurie.
“There’s been an outpouring of support from communities as far east as Grand Forks. People are being put up in family’s houses. There’s been so much in the way of clothing and blankets being donated that they can’t even use it all,” says Gee.
She says that cash will be the most important donation in the coming days. With credit unions in the region closed on Monday however, it may take a few days for an account to be opened.
For the moment, people can phone the Midway Community Centre at 250-449-2310 and give their name, number, and exactly what they can contribute. They will then get a call back to say whether their specific donation offer is needed.
Further north, the town of Beaverdell isn’t under an evacuation order, but it is without power due to the fires. Gee says that support is coming into the community, and it’s hoped the power will be restored sooner rather than later.
“They thought it would be a couple of weeks, but they now think it could be sooner. It’s been very hard, and there were opportunities for people to be evacuated north, but I believe that people have wanted to stay.”
In total, the size of the fire was still measured at 2,500 hectares for over a day.
But with the winds and smoke down, BC Wildfire Service were able to get a better sense of the full size of the blaze, now estimated at 3,750 hectares.
Still yet to be known is the total damage.
WATCH: Rock Creek fire evacuees share tales of escape
– With files from The Canadian Press