People whose homes were destroyed by the wildfire in and around West Kelowna, B.C., are being contacted to schedule escorted bus visits to view the damage.
Only people whose properties are completely destroyed or damaged to the point they’re uninhabitable will be invited to participate at this time, the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre said in a statement on Wednesday.
The process is aimed at ensuring people who have lost their homes “have the privacy, time and space to be the first to see their properties,” it said.
Bus visits are being offered before officials lift any further evacuation orders in neighbourhoods ravaged by wildfire nearly two weeks ago, the centre added.
People must remain on the bus during their visit, and not all properties will be visible from the bus, such as those with a long driveway, the statement noted.
Regional staff, as well as RCMP and mental health professionals, will be present during visits to offer support to property owners, the district said.
The 126-square-kilometre McDougall Creek wildfire continues to burn out of control in the hills above the community. It’s part of a complex of fires that destroyed or damaged nearly 190 properties earlier this month.
To the north, in the Shuswap region, the threat of the Bush Creek East blaze prompted a new evacuation order for 14 properties in the Sorrento area, where wildfire has already destroyed or significantly damaged nearly 170 properties.
Derek Sutherland, director of the emergency operations centre for the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, said there was an “active fire fight” Tuesday night on the west side of Sorrento, where crews managed to save a home.
Firefighters felt “comfortable” with the status of the fire by Wednesday morning, which brought more favourable weather, information officer Tim Conrad said.
“The weather forecast that we’ve received is one of the best we’ve seen in quite a while,” he told Wednesday’s briefing.
“At the same time, we’re marked with the reality that we’re making phone calls to people that have lost their homes and their cottages and so on.”
Back in the Central Okanagan, officials said Wednesday that cooler, wetter conditions contributed to a “calm night” for the McDougall Creek blaze.
But they said the weather pattern also brought stronger winds, prompting the expansion of an evacuation alert for parts of the city.
A statement from West Kelowna fire Chief Jason Brolund said those winds combined with low humidity were a “recipe for increased fire behaviour” and additional firefighters and equipment were stationed in threatened areas.
“We are feeling better about the weather forecast and fire conditions in West Kelowna,” he said Wednesday. “However, this wildfire will be an ongoing threat in the Glenrosa area for a while to come.”
Rainfall overnight and projected in the coming days will help, “but it will not put the fire out,” he said, urging residents to remain vigilant.
Nearly 490 properties in the Central Okanagan remain under evacuation order.
To the west, officials said heavy rain fell overnight on the Kookipi Creek wildfire south of Lytton, B.C. Weather stations recorded as much as 16 millimetres of rain in one area, helping firefighters stymie any growth.
Jessica Mack, an information officer with the BC Wildfire Service, told a briefing the rainfall has significantly dampened fire behaviour.
“We are able to go more direct to the fire’s edge and work onto those areas, because it’s a little bit safer for our crews to do that,” she said.
The number of wildfires currently burning throughout B.C. has ticked up to 422, with dozens of new blazes sparked by lightning in the past two days. There are 197 fires classified as out of control.
Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 30, 2023.