West Kelowna, B.C. residents feel grief, relief as evacuation orders downgraded

Click to play video: 'More West Kelowna residents returning home after McDougall Creek wildfire'
More West Kelowna residents returning home after McDougall Creek wildfire
It's mixed emotions in West Kelowna as more people are being allowed to return home nearly a month after being forced to flee from the McDougall Creek wildfire. But as Klaudia Van Emmerik reports, some who are returning no longer have a place to come home to. – Sep 15, 2023

Tammy Thomas and her husband Will suffered a tremendous loss when the McDougall Creek wildfire swept through the area off Bear Creek Road in West Kelowna, B.C.

“It’s tough, and to hear it, though, and to see it…,” Thomas said.

On Thursday for the very first time,  Thomas was able to see what had become of her home after evacuation orders were downgraded to alerts for dozens of properties in the area on Wednesday evening.

“We came up as soon as daybreak,” Thomas said. “We left downtown around 5:30 a.m., just because you can’t sleep.  I didn’t sleep at all. I was pretty much just thinking about what you might see.”

Thomas’ home had burned to the ground along with her husband’s truck.

“You can try and prepare yourself, but once you finally see it and you kind of digest it and you go, wow, it’s such a devastation, there’s so much gone,” she said.

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Click to play video: 'Wildfire impacts on wildlife in the Okanagan'
Wildfire impacts on wildlife in the Okanagan

Jack Creighton lives nearby.

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The 87-year-old man fared a lot better, only losing a garden shed, but the flames came perilously close to his home —about 10 or so metres.

“The whole landscape has changed; it’s not the same. Wildlife will have changed and it just goes on and on and on,” Creighton said.

The Bear Creek area was hit devastatingly hard by the wildfire.

Many homes  were levelled, vehicles were scorched and the surrounding forest was left blackened and charred.

What was a lush and green neighbourhood is now brown, with plenty of reminders of pre-fire life.

There are gates still intact but, but no houses are on the other side. Chimneys stand on properties where houses once stood, with barbecues among piles of rubble.

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“There’s so many houses got destroyed here,  I wonder how many are actually going to re-build because people will say, ‘Enough is enough. I’m done with this,'” Creighton said.

Thomas said she’s not one of them, adding she’s already thinking about re-building, despite the fire risks associated with living amidst the forest.

“I see a future here still, ” Thomas stated. “We’re going to build. There’s still some beauty, you know. There’s still some land that’s green , and hopefully some trees that will stay.”

In addition to more residents being allowed back home, Westside Road also re-opened on Wednesday.

According to the Emergency Operations Centre, there are still 99 properties on evacuation order within both the city and regional boundaries.

Click to play video: '‘It’s like driving through a war zone,’ fire evacuees return home in the North Shuswap.'
‘It’s like driving through a war zone,’ fire evacuees return home in the North Shuswap.

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