Following seven anxious nights of watching and waiting, Christie Mountain wildfire evacuees were allowed to return to their homes southeast of Penticton, B.C., on Tuesday afternoon.
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen rescinded an evacuation order for the majority of the 319 properties in the Heritage Hills subdivision north of Okanagan Falls, although 75 homes at the top of the hillside remain evacuated while geotechnical assessments are completed.
“I am feeling great about coming home today. Patience is key, you have to let the professionals do their job, and giving them that kind of space and not getting in their way is the best thing we can possibly do as a community,” said local resident Steve St. Germain.
Representatives with the RDOS, as well as RCMP and a private security firm, were on hand providing re-entry documents to returning residents on Tuesday off Eastside Road.
“I’m scared to see what I’m going to find at home, but I am hoping for the best and I’m glad to be going home; it has been a long week, said Maria Rawn.
“It’s been very stressful, not knowing what is going on. It’s been tough, but I am one of the lucky ones, I have cameras, so I can see what the guys were doing and my house is still standing, so that is a blessing.”
Kirsty Dickinson also returned home after spending a week at her son’s house.
“It’s wonderful and I really thank all the people who made it possible.”
Troy Pickering spent the past week living in an RV in his mother’s driveway.
“It’s just get home, get stuff done, make sure everything is okay.”
Rob Buchanan was put up by his friends while displaced.
“It’s been hectic. Hopefully everything is OK, and there are still people up there who need assistance and hope their houses are good still,” he said.
The B.C. Wildfire Service says the fire, which has scorched more than 20 square kilometres of land on the east side of Skaha Lake and destroyed one home since last week, is now classified as Rank 1 on a scale of six.
Rank 1 covers smouldering ground fires with no open flames and white smoke that can be attacked directly by ground crews using hand tools, pumps and hoses.
The wildfire service on Tuesday evening issued notice that the Christie Mountain wildfire is now contained by firefighters, and is not expected to spread further because of light wind and rain forecast for the weekend.
217 firefighters are on-site with support from a dozen helicopters and four water tenders.
On Monday, an evacuation alert was lifted for nearly 3,700 properties in Penticton, where residents had been advised they should be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.
St. Germain praised the efforts of firefighters for saving all but one home in his community.
“They didn’t lose one home, they saved 318, so it’s an emotional day for me.”
— With files from the Canadian Press