British Columbia

Dozens of Okanagan residents cope with the news their homes have been lost to wildfire

On Tuesday, many homeowners along the western shores of B.C.'s Okanagan Lake received news they were dreading for the past two days — their homes had been destroyed by wildfire.

70 homes were lost to wildfire along picturesque shoreline communities, B.C. officials confirmed Tuesday

The White Rock Lake fire can be seen from above on Aug. 15, 2021 as it encroached on lakeside communities along the western shore of Okanagan Lake. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

On Tuesday, many homeowners along the western shores of B.C.'s Okanagan Lake received news they were dreading for the past two days — their homes had been destroyed by wildfire.

People from more than 1,400 properties in the area were forced to flee as the White Rock Lake fire was fanned by the wind over the weekend and aggressively moved toward lake communities off Westside Road, including Killiney Beach, Ewing and Estamont Beach.

Some of the homes destroyed were right along the shore, like those on Beachwood Road, which have docks extending into the water.

Jennifer Carlson's family was one of dozens that were told on Tuesday by local officials that their homes were gone.

"It's an absolutely horrible situation to be in ... . And I'm mad and I'm angry and I'm sad," she said. "I have every emotion running through me. It's crazy. It's almost like a death."

Jennifer Carlson had lived in her home along the western shores of Okanagan Lake since 2013 before a wildfire destroyed. (Submitted by Jennifer Carlson)

Along with her husband, mother, three children and several pets, Carlson was forced to flee her home as the White Rock Lake fire approached over the weekend.

The only other things Carlson took were some photographs — "just in case," she said.

After safely getting out and being provided a hotel by emergency support services, she and her family went into a tense waiting game to learn what the fire did to their community.

She joined a Facebook group where many people affected by the White Rock Lake wildfire posted messages and pictures in an effort to try and figure out what was lost and what remained despite not having access to the area and dense smoke obscuring what could be seen from across the lake.

Some of the photos posted in the Facebook group were taken from boats on Okanagan Lake. One photo, an aerial shot taken by a pilot who flew overhead, showed all that remained of some homes were their foundations.

 

Carlson was able to determine on Monday from the Facebook group that her home on Westside Road had burned. A further confirmation came from officials on Tuesday.

"Devastated," she said about how she felt when she received the call.

She said she is overwhelmed by the news and thinking about the effort that will be required to try and rebuild. She hopes to eventually be able to return to the site of her home and at least see what remains.

Right now though, the road in and out of the community is closed as the fire is still active. Crews have used the cooler weather to try and safeguard the area before conditions dry out and the fire potentially increases in size again.

The White Rock Lake fire seen from across Okanagan Lake on the evening of Aug. 15, 2021 as it burned houses in Killiney Beach and Ewing. (Bryce Rogers)

Wayne Carson lives in Killiney Beach and is also a director with the Central Okanagan Regional District. His home was spared, but as a former firefighter, he understands how difficult it is to tell people theirs were not.

"Delivering bad news is hard on both parties," he said. "It's not what you want to be doing."

He hopes crews will be able to make progress on containing the fire so there aren't more losses.

Meantime, those whose homes were destroyed say they will start the long process of recovery.

That's what's happening with the Okanagan Indian Band, which is located near Vernon at the head of Okanagan Lake and has around 1,700 members.

The fire destroyed 10 homes and one business, and damaged four other structures in the community.

Chief Byron Louis says his nation is struggling with homes and land destroyed by the White Rock Lake wildfire. (Fred Gagnon/Radio-Canada)

Chief Byron Louis with the Okanagan Indian Band says the damage from wildfires on homes and communities is immediate, but their effects are long-lasting.

"You know when they suddenly don't have that home anymore, that's pretty devastating because everything that you possess, all your pictures, all your memories, everything are basically gone," he said.

With files from Brady Strachan

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