WEST KELOWNA, B.C. — Just hours after the last of 11,000 fire evacuees finally returned home, 2,200 others in B.C.’s Okanagan were forced to leave theirs after a third fire blazed out of control.
The Regional District of Central Okanagan announced Thursday morning that a fire on Terrace Mountain doubled in size overnight to 40 square kilometres.
As a result, an evacuation alert Wednesday was upgraded to an order. It covered the North Westside Road areas between Caesar’s Landing and Killiney Beach.
“My house is in Upper Fintry, near the very back,” said Sean Corlett, who is on day parole in Abbotsford and was given permission to return to his home.
“It’s probably one of the first ones that will get hit if the fire comes down … It’s all I got.”
Corlett said he packed up photos and other valuables upon hearing of the evacuation order.
Gerald Selin was visiting his daughter from Saskatoon when the family received the bad news. He said they were on the road within half an hour.
“My daughter’s a little bit upset,” Selin said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
The latest evacuation comes a day after the remaining people forced out of two areas in West Kelowna were allowed to go home.
Ten thousand people were ordered evacuated from the Glenrosa subdivision and another 1,200 left their homes in nearby Rose Valley.
Those fires were contained by the end of Wednesday, though officials cautioned the fires aren’t out. Three houses and a mobile home were destroyed.
When fire officials spoke of the three area fires in recent days, they said the Terrace Mountain blaze was of the lowest priority because it was in a largely rural area and was not a threat to homes and communities.
One resident outside the evacuee centre, who didn’t give his name, said Thursday that crews didn’t attack the fire as aggressively as they should have.
It’s a claim that Jerry Wearing of the B.C. Forest Service disputes.
“All the circumstances around every fire are judged very carefully by the command of B.C. Forest Service,” Wearing said.
“I have no doubt that the resources that were applied to the Terrace Mountain fire were very appropriate.”
Tim Neal, with the Ministry of Forests and Range, said much the same thing.
“The fires up at Terrace Mountain are inaccessible,” he said.
“We could not put crews into that fire because we didn’t have any escape routes or anchor points.”
Neal said all three fires were treated as priorities, and helicopters, air tankers, and more than 300 firefighters were deployed to the Terrace Mountain blaze.
Wearing said the massive growth of the fire overnight could be explained by a couple of different factors.
“There was a very large expansion in the afternoon, evening and overnight period of this fire. This was due to lots of very dry fuel, some very low humidity,” he said.
Forest service spokeswoman Elise Riedlinger said it’s not yet clear how much of the fire — if any — had been contained.
Bruce Smith, with the regional district’s emergency operations centre, said Thursday’s evacuation order was executed well.
“Things have been going excellent,” he said. “People have been very receptive. I think the advanced notice that they received yesterday of the alert assisted.”
As for when evacuees might be able to return home, Smith said it’s far too early to say.
“We assess that day to day,” he said.
“Trying to put a timeline when they get back is like trying to pin jelly to the wall.”