In a press conference held on Thursday afternoon, officials revealed that all evacuation orders for residences in Kelowna, British Columbia have been rescinded and have thus been lowered to cautionary alerts. Correspondingly, restrictions have been lifted from over 300 properties in Lake Country, while approximately 700 others remain in a state of evacuation.
The Regional District of Central Okanagan continues to bear the brunt of evacuation orders, with West Kelowna and the Westbank First Nation among the significantly impacted areas. A sizeable number of inhabitants are permitted to return home, though many more await the go-ahead, while some have faced the devastating revelation that they no longer possess homes to return to.
Kelowna Fire Chief Travis Whiting could hardly contain his enthusiasm on Thursday morning as he officially announced the withdrawal of the orders. “The energy this morning is immensely positive. Our primary objective over the past week has been to safely facilitate the return of all evacuees and it brings great joy to see this happen,” he professed at a media briefing.
Whiting insisted on ushering everyone back safely saying, “Take care of each other and we’ll do everything we can to get you all home,” choking back tears at the emotional juncture.
Following a week of resolute fire containment efforts backed by favourable weather conditions, the twin fires that erupted last week in Okanagan city are now effectively contained.
The billing fires are confirmed to have affected four properties in Kelowna, the extent of which could range from minor harm to absolute obliteration. Whiting alerted those returning about the redoubled presence of firefighting crews and transformations in the landscape, stating, “You’re not returning to the neighbourhood you left. Fire has ravaged vast swathes of land around these homes, penetrating into the backyards.”
The McDougall Creek blaze continues to rage uncontrollably, while uncertainty veils the timeline of the displaced residents’ return home. West Kelowna Fire Chief Jason Brolund echoed the uncertainty, “There are substantial neighbourhoods that are inching closer to homecoming. However, some will have to endure a longer wait, particularly those that have witnessed extensive fire damage.”
Nearly 200 properties have been impaired or completely destroyed in West Kelowna, the West Bank First Nation, and parts of the Central Okanagan Regional District. But returned residents, like Frank Hillebrand of West Kelowna, exhibit cautious optimism, vocalising the widespread relief that the worst maybe behind them.
Hillebrand and his wife were forced to evacuate when flames from the raging wildfire came horrifyingly close to his property. The couple hastily installed an irrigation system around their house, packed their cats, and left everything else behind. Upon return, they found their property miraculously unscathed, understanding fully how fortunate they had been given the magnitude of the fire’s destruction. “We’ve got our home, a lot of people don’t,” he reflected.