1,100 people to return home after wildfire sweeps through Okanagan
Published Monday, September 10, 2012 7:04AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, September 10, 2012 8:48PM EDT
About 1,100 people were allowed to return home Monday night after a wildfire swept through parts of B.C.’s Central Okanagan region, but another 416 residents remain under an evacuation order.
Officials from the regional district said roughly two-thirds of residents who were told to leave their homes could safely return.
The fire began Sunday afternoon and quickly grew to threaten the town of Peachland, where four homes were destroyed.
Several buildings on the outskirts of town were also destroyed. No injuries have been reported.
CTV British Columbia's Kent Molgat reported earlier Monday that the fire had grown to about 200 hectares in size. Firefighters were struggling to contain the blaze, he said.
"Firefighters used all sorts of air traffic to try and contain this fire in its early stages but eventually thick black smoke made it impossible to continue," Molgat told CTV News Channel from Peachland, with the fire burning behind him.
“Our hearts go out to the property owners who have suffered loss because of this fire," said Elsie Lemke, director of emergency operations for the District of Peachland.
The evacuated residents of the Peachland area, near Trepanier Creek on Okanagan Lake, stayed with family and friends or in local motels on Sunday night.
Hundreds more had been put on alert, warned they could be placed under an evacuation order at any time.
British Columbia's Wildfire Management Branch said Monday the fire was considered "active.” By mid-morning local time, officials said the fire was about 50 per cent contained.
Just after 11 p.m. PT on Sunday, the wildfire branch issued a statement saying 35 firefighters were on the scene, five helicopters were deployed and two pieces of heavy equipment were in place.
By midday Monday, more than 60 firefighters, 17 fire trucks, water tankers and a half dozen water-bombing helicopters were working on the blaze.
Peachland Fire Chief Grant Topham told reporters Monday that the region was getting hit with winds of up to 50 km/h, with no guarantee of relief from rain.
"We have areas where there are hot spots, there are trees that are still burning, there are stumps that are still burning," he said.
The fire was first discovered around 3 p.m. local time on Sunday near Trepanier Bench, on the west side of Peachland.
Peachland is located about 380 kilometres northeast of Vancouver and has about 5,200 residents.
Resident Eddie Stadelman left his home with his wife and reported to an emergency reception centre in West Kelowna.
Stadelman, 78, said they were about to enjoy a drink when high winds spurred him to look outside.
"I looked up and there was smoke, and I knew there was going to be trouble," Stadelman, a retired Toronto firefighter, told The Canadian Press.
He said the couple quickly gathered up important documents and other items to prepare to evacuate. The order came down shortly after.
"We expected to be evacuated because that wind was blowing and that smoke was rolling," he said.
"In my mind, I have an escape plan. We had everything, so we just picked it up and put it in the car."
Evacuee Walter Huber snapped a photo of his Peachland winery just moments before he fled the area.
He wasn’t sure what would happen to his property, but was relieved to find out late Monday afternoon that the winery was still standing.
“It looks like we’re still okay. It looks like there are some fires in here and some burning over here but the winery building is here and that looks still OK,” he told CTV British Columbia.
However, a neighbouring home was gutted. Tilman Hinle, who lived there for 40 years before selling the property in May, told CTV British Columbia it was “heart-wrenching to see it being consumed in a short period of time.”
With a report from CTV British Columbia and files from The Canadian Press