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More White Rock Lake evacuees returning home after month-long displacement

Click to play video: 'More White Rock Lake fire evacuees return home after month-long displacement' More White Rock Lake fire evacuees return home after month-long displacement
More White Rock Lake fire evacuees return home after month-long displacement – Sep 6, 2021

Evacuees from Parker Cove and other neighbourhoods at the south end of the Okanagan Indian Band’s I.R. #1, near Vernon, were finally given the go-ahead to return home on Saturday.

It was an emotional homecoming as most of the area had been on evacuation order due to the White Rock Lake wildfire for over a month.

Parker Cove resident Pauline Van Koll was among those forced to leave her home on August 1 as the growing fire menaced the westside of Okanagan Lake.

After weeks away from home, living in a motel, she and her neighbours learned on Saturday, Sept. 4, they could return.

Click to play video: 'On-the-ground look at destruction near Westside Road caused by White Rock Lake fire' On-the-ground look at destruction near Westside Road caused by White Rock Lake fire
On-the-ground look at destruction near Westside Road caused by White Rock Lake fire – Aug 24, 2021

“Oh my Lord, we were excited,” said Van Koll.

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“We were so excited that we ran up to more [Parker Cove residents] that were staying in the hotel and told them. They already knew … everybody was happy.”

At times during the month-long displacement, Van Koll, like other evacuees, watched the flames from across the lake and wondered if she would have a house to come home to.

Many families had that fear realized as more than a hundred structures on the west side of Okanagan Lake and in the Thompson Nicola Regional District were damaged or lost to the blaze.

Van Koll was relieved to be returning to a standing house and grateful for the work that was done to protect her neighbourhood, but the destruction in the area was still difficult to see.

“It was devastating driving down Westside Rd….especially those who lost their houses,” she said.

Damage from the White Rock Lake fire on the west side of Okanagan Lake could be seen by boat on Tuesday, August 17. Global News

Van Koll returned home Sunday along with many others and said it was “awesome” to be back.

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“It was quite the traffic line coming home,” Van Koll said.

Van Koll said the area still smells like a wet campfire, but neighbours were happily welcoming each other back on Sunday.

The next step for Van Koll and others will be cleaning up after their month-long displacement: clearing out an overgrown garden, throwing out spoiled food from fridges and deodorizing belongings that currently smell like ash.

After the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) downgraded Parker Cove and the surrounding area to an evacuation alert on Saturday, the only OKIB area that remains on evacuation order due to the White Rock Lake wildfire is Mini-Shadows Road.

Click to play video: 'B.C. wildfires: White Rock Lake fire being held; campfire ban ends early' B.C. wildfires: White Rock Lake fire being held; campfire ban ends early
B.C. wildfires: White Rock Lake fire being held; campfire ban ends early – Sep 3, 2021

At some points during the crisis, the entirety of I.R. #1 was evacuated.

While many OKIB residents are still on evacuation alert, the lifting of almost all of the evacuation orders has also given emergency staff a reprieve.

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“For the first time since July 27, 2021, the OKIB [emergency operations centre] will be closed for two days to give staff some time to recover and in some cases move back to their homes,” the band said in a statement.

“We will reopen Tuesday, September 7. The Emergency Operations Centre phone line will be monitored.”

Other jurisdictions, including the Thompson Nicola Regional District; Columbia Shuswap Regional District; and the Regional District of Central Okanagan, still have outstanding evacuation orders due to the White Rock Lake fire.

The massive 83,000 hecatare blaze that has been burning since mid-July was finally downgraded from “out of control” status to “being held” on Thursday.

An evacuation order means you must leave your home, while an evacuation alert means you can remain in your home but should be prepared to leave quickly if needed.

Click to play video: 'Westside community hub raised by White Rock Lake fire' Westside community hub raised by White Rock Lake fire
Westside community hub raised by White Rock Lake fire – Aug 19, 2021

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