British Columbia

B.C. fires: Oliver, B.C., fire evacuees allowed to return home

The residents of 100 homes forced to flee due to a wildfire raging near Oliver, in British Columbia's southern Interior, can return home. However, residents could be asked to leave again on a moment's notice.

125 homes near Testalinden wildfire are now under an evacuation alert

Smoke from one of the two wildfires near Oliver, B.C., could be seen from nearby Osoyoos. (Meera Bains/CBC)

The residents of 100 homes forced to flee a wildfire raging near Oliver, in British Columbia's southern Interior, can return home.

On Monday afternoon the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen said it had rescinded the evacuation order for the homes near the Testalinden wildfire. 

However, the homes remain under an evacuation alert, meaning residents there could be asked to leave again on a moment's notice.

Later on Monday, the district added another 25 homes to the evacuation alert. Officials will visit those homes to warn residents that they could be ordered to leave.

Affected homes are along Highway 3 west of Osoyoos, B.C. and part of the western side of Highway 97 north of Osoyoos.

The fire has damaged at least one structure in the area.

Meanwhile, another 260 homes affected by the nearby Wilsons Mountain wildfire are also on evacuation alert.

Those residents were allowed to return on Saturday afternoon. 

At least one structure was damaged in the fires, but no injuries have been reported. 

More than 600 people are still displaced because of the Rock Creek wildfire, last estimated to be 37 square km and still completely uncontained, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service.

"The Rock Creek fire is and will continue to be a large, active fire," said fire information officer Mike McCulley.

That fire has destroyed 30 properties and 11 other structures.

Progress on Oliver fires

Earlier on Monday air and ground crews were beginning to make progress containing some of the wildfires burning in British Columbia's southern Interior. 

The Testalinden and Wilsons Mountain fires surrounding Oliver are now 40 and 70 per cent contained respectively, officials said Monday. 

Hundreds fled their homes as the three wildfires burned out of control over the weekend, about 130 km south of Kelowna.

Campers forced out of the nearby Kettle River Provincial Park last week were escorted back in small groups on Sunday to pick up their belongings. The winding highway leading into the park was flanked by destroyed homes and scorched earth.

Local utility company Fortis BC has been working to restore power to homes throughout the region.

Others still waiting to return home

Hundreds of evacuees in Rock Creek are anxiously waiting to return to their homes.

"I'm sleeping in my car, my health is poor, I'm not eating properly," said Rock Creek resident Robert Wheeler. 

He fled his home when a wildfire came within a couple of kilometres.

The Canadian Red Cross has been providing family reunification services and basic necessities for evacuees. 

It has also opened up a fund for people affected by the fires. 

"We're not an insurance company but what our workers get to do is sit down with our clients and say, 'What do you need to recover?'" said Kimberley Nemrava with the Red Cross. 

She said needs can range from false teeth, to replace those left behind, to the recovery of tools so people can get back to work.

Harsher penalties for fire starters

Premier Christy Clark visited a community centre packed with evacuees in nearby Midway on Sunday.

Premier Christy Clark visited with Rock Creek fire evacuees in Midway, B.C., on Sunday afternoon. (Meera Bains/CBC)
She told reporters she wants to see harsher penalties for people who start forest fires, after officials said the fire in Rock Creek is believed to be human-caused.

"If you are found to have been throwing a cigarette butt out of your car, perhaps one of the penalties available should be that we should be able to take away the use of your car for a period of time," said Clark.

The premier predicted the cost of fighting fires this season could balloon to as much as $400 million. The province budgets for fires on a five-year average, working out to about $60 million a year.

"Whatever we need to spend, we spend it to make sure we look after the people of this province," she said.

Fires still smouldering

The biggest challenge to fighting the several aggressive fires that have flared up across the region has been the strong and gusty winds, said Kevin Skrepnek of the B.C. Wildfire Service.

The B.C. Wildfire Service reported that a stray drone had grounded firefighting aircraft at the Testalinden fire. This is at least the second instance so far this year where a drone has interfered with firefighting efforts.

"You can imagine the consequence of ingesting a drone into an aircraft engine or into the windscreen of an aircraft," said drone operator and instructor Sterling Cripps. "It's not a bird, it's got more solid parts on it."

One of two wildfires near Oliver, B.C., continued to smoulder on Sunday evening. The region is one of Canada's biggest wine producers. (CBC)

With files from The Canadian Press


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