Cheryl Gorder and Albert Bourgois were overcome with emotion on Thursday when they were given the news that it was safe enough to return home, and that the Keremeos Creek wildfire was no longer threatening their property.
“(These are) tears of joy. My home is still here. Some of my plants are alive,” Gorder, an Olalla resident, said as she got back to her house. “It’s been a real journey — a journey that I didn’t want to take but I did and we made it through.… We’re ecstatic.”
Gorder said she was out of her home for about a week, but it was an ordeal and being home is just the salve she needs.
It’s the simple things that she looks forward to getting done: watering her plants and, when she feels it’s time to turn off the sprinkler, cutting her lawn will be a priority as well.
Also high on the list is settling in and watching The Young and the Restless.
Just knowing that she can do those things that make up a life is a tremendous relief and she said she’s thankful to everyone who took part in the firefight and allowed that to happen.
“There’s no place like home,” she said. “When you are forced out like that, it’s very difficult.”
All Olalla residents were given the go-ahead to head home on Thursday, with the fire conditions around their homes becoming increasingly safer.
Erick Thompson from the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen said Olalla residents are now on an evacuation alert only, meaning they need to be ready to leave if the need arises.
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In addition, the alert that was in place for the surrounding areas and the village of Keremeos has been rescinded.
“We’d like people to know that Highway 3A as of today is currently open to local traffic only,” Thompson said. “So only people who need to be in that area, people returning home can access Highway 3A.”
Those in the area should also be mindful of fire crews remaining in the area to watch for spot fires. With that in mind, RCMP will be patrolling the area closely.
It’s been a difficult week for many and tensions have been high throughout the ordeal. People have wanted to access their homes and belongings and there have at times been strained communications between those who want to go home and those who are working the checkpoints.
“I think it’s really difficult for people who are on evacuation order and evacuation alert. These are challenging times and, certainly, the Emergency Operations Centre and all the people working with BC Wildfire appreciate that stress and the challenge that people are facing,” Thompson said.
“We appreciate people’s patience and their understanding. It’s important that people are kind to security guards when they see them at checkpoints and other staff and Wildfire Service crews. Everyone is just doing the best they can get people home safely.”