British Columbia

28 owls evacuated from conservation society near Eagle Bluff wildfire

SORCO and the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C. evacuated the birds on the property they share, because of the nearby Eagle Bluff wildfire.

'You could really feel some of the heat coming off the fire'

Owls from the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C. perch inside a flight pen at their new temporary home at the B.C. Wildlife Park in Kamloops. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Early Monday morning, Tracey Reynolds, animal care manager at the B.C. Wildlife Park in Kamloops, awoke to a concerned phone call from the manager of the South Okanagan Recovery Centre for Owls, SORCO, in Oliver, B.C.

"I asked her, 'How are you doing?' and she says, 'not great,'" said Reynolds.

SORCO and another owl conservation society that share the same property, needed somewhere to evacuate their birds because of the nearby Eagle Bluff wildfire. Even though they are only on evacuation alert, they were concerned for the animals' safety. 

The fire between Okanagan Falls and Oliver has grown to over nine square kilometres since Sunday night and has put more than 200 properties on evacuation alert.

"Immediately, we knew this wasn't going to be good. We could see that it was very large and was coming very close to us," said Dale Belvedere, manager of SORCO.

Belvedere and Lauren Meads, executive director of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C., along with some volunteers, caught all of the birds in their flight pens and crated them in under an hour and drove them away.

A kind stranger who was camping nearby, pulled over on the side of the highway to help them out.

"He was just incredible," said Belvedere.

'Even if the fire is brought under control, it's going to be a lot of smoke in the area and that just isn't good for the owls,' said Reynolds. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

"We've definitely had some fires that were close, but this was definitely the closest," Meads told Daybreak Kamloops' Jenifer Norwell.

"You could really feel some of the heat coming off the fire. It was right up the hill. There's a canyon right behind the facility and we were worried that it was going to jump over that canyon."

All 28 of Burrowing Owl's birds have been safely transported to the B.C. Wildlife Park in Kamloops, along with one of SORCO's young raptors that needs a lot of attention.

Three other birds that were scheduled to be released this week, were released on Monday, and SORCO's resident great horned owl, Houdini, is staying with an experienced volunteer, said Belvedere.

"We've had a lot of calls inquiring how he's doing. He's fine," she added. 

New home 

So far, the owls are adjusting well to their new temporary home at the wildlife park, said Leah McKinnon, a field biologist with Burrowing Owl.

"They're in a new space and they kind of flew out and everyone looked a little nervous and all stressed," she said, but now they're more comfortable with the other owls at the park.

Left to right: Leah McKinnon, Lauren Meads and Tracey Reynolds at the B.C. Wildlife Park in Kamloops. 'I think for now they're very happy here and that's great,' said McKinnon about the owls. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

"It's nice to see that everyone seems to have kind of settled in nicely now and they all seem to be finding shady spots to hang out in the sun, so they're keeping cool and that's important too."

Reynolds anticipates the owls will need to stay for at least a month to two months.

"Even if the fire does get under control, it's going to be a lot of smoke in the area and that just isn't good for the owls. So we'll have to make sure that the fire is well out, and the smoke dissipated before they go back," she said.

Financial hit

Meads is closely watching the fire, hoping it doesn't burn down their south Okanagan facility. 

"If heaven forbid, we lose the facility, that's a huge strain on us financially. We only run on a few grants [and] mostly public donations," said Meads. 

"It's great that we can bring them here. But it definitely throws a bit of a wrench in our plans and probably will cost us a little bit more money in the long run."

With files from Jenifer Norwell and Daybreak Kamloops

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