British Columbia

Crews bring White Rock Lake wildfire under control, meaning many residents can now return home

Wildfire crews say the White Rock Lake fire — at its peak considered one of the largest and most dangerous wildfires in B.C. this summer — is now under control, which means many residents will soon be returning to their homes for the first time in weeks.

Several evacuation orders downgraded to alerts after wildfire service says giant blaze is being held

Over 75 homes were destroyed or damaged by the White Rock Lake fire in August. (Brady Strachan / CBC)

Wildfire crews say the White Rock Lake fire — at its peak considered one of the largest and most dangerous wildfires in B.C. this summer — is now under control, which means many residents are returning to their homes for the first time in weeks.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says the fire is "being held" — which means it is under control but still smouldering — and is not likely to spread beyond containment lines, but considerable work remains to completely suppress it. 

On Friday morning it estimated that the fire, which tore through the communities of Monte Lake and the Upper Westside in early August, was still around 83 square kilometres in size. 

"Over the last 52 days firefighters and support personnel from around the world have maintained response efforts on the White Rock Lake wildfire," the service said in a statement.

It said at its peak, the fire camp in Vernon, B.C., housed over 500 people. 

"The B.C. Wildfire Service thanks the commitment of heavy equipment operators, helicopter pilots, camp kitchen operators, facility managers, incident support staff, security staff, among countless others, to keep firefighters supported on the ground." 

Doug Pitman, a resident of Killiney Beach, stands outside his auto shop on Sept. 3. He is seeing his home for the first time in nearly a month because of the White Rock Lake wildfire. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

In a release sent out Thursday evening, the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations (CORD) said the evacuation orders for Ewings Landing, Killiney Beach and Westshore Estates neighbourhoods had been downgraded to alerts.

Any residents re-entering the area must enter from the south along Westside Road as the north end of the road remains closed as of Friday morning, it said. 

CORD says an evacuation order remains in place for 18 properties on Bouleau Lake Road and says there is no public access to the Bouleau Lake area. They also said the Mount Law wildfire is now also classified as held, with no evacuation orders or alerts in effect.

The wildfire service says, however, an area restriction order remains in effect in the July Mountain and Garrison Lake wildfire areas.

"Even though it might not be an active wildfire in some areas, there are lots of dangerous areas just given how hot and fast the fire burned through," said Forrest Tower, a fire information officer.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TRND) has also downgraded the evacuation order to an alert for the area near Murray Lake.

Caution advised when re-entering properties

CORD is also cautioning returning residents to be prepared as there might be a number of hazards on their properties such as tree fall, burnt trees and root structures. 

Residents are advised to bring their own bottled water as a "do not consume" notice has been put into place for the Killiney water system due to wildfire damage. 

Killiney Beach resident, Marko Tull said he and his wife were elated to head back to their property after being forced to stay away for four weeks.

"We went into the house. She started crying and I got some tears coming in and it was perfect. We had no smoke damage or anything like that," Tull told CBC News.

He says others in his neighbourhood weren't as lucky. 

"It's just devastating. I'm feeling for those people because we were in fear for two weeks."

Pitman opens his front door for the first time in nearly a month. He says some of his neighbours tried to stick it out in the face of the devastating White Rock Lake fire. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Doug Pitman, another Killiney Beach resident, said a few houses near him were "all gone" and some of his neighbours tried to stick around because they did not have insurance.

Pitman says he was away from home for nearly four weeks, and he feared losing his auto shop and his invaluable '56 Pontiac.

"I didn't expect to see all the stuff still here, right? Thought I might have lost it," he said.

"If you come in and see how much stuff I got in here, it's way, way over $100,000. It's kind of one of those things that, you know, the house can burn down, but not the shop." 

TNRD communications manager Michelle Nordstrom says fire activity is looking promising throughout the province as the cooler weather continues to aid firefighters in controlling many blazes. 

"That fire has impacted so many people across so many areas that I think the entire region and Okanagan is probably breathing a sigh of relief," Nordstrom told CBC's The Early Edition on Friday.

"[By next week] we may be actually looking at winding down our emergency operations centre, which has been active since the end of June for us." 

As the Labour Day long weekend approaches, the TNRD is reminding people to be extremely careful with any outdoor activity that could cause wildfires.

On Thursday evening, there were 215 wildfires burning throughout the province as 1,182 properties remain on evacuation order and 4,691 more on alert. 

Since April 1 there have been 1,564 wildfires in B.C. and over 8,600 square kilometres of land has burned.

Anyone placed under an evacuation order should leave the area immediately. 

Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire. To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

With files from Akshay Kulkarni, The Early Edition and Brady Strachan


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