West Kelowna wildfire evacuees may experience trauma: officials
Posted September 13, 2023 6:12 pm.
Last Updated September 13, 2023 6:22 pm.
Evacuation orders have been downgraded for dozens of properties in West Kelowna, and officials are issuing a warning to residents as they return to the area.
Seeing the aftermath of the McDougall Creek wildfire might be difficult for them to deal with, as they may not recognize the places they once called home, says Regional District of Central Okanagan recovery manager Steve Schell.
“It’s going to be very traumatizing, especially as those (residents) move into these evacuated areas that have gone from an order to alert over the next few days,” Schell said.
Support is available, Schell says, explaining there are “resilience centres” — one-stop shops that have vast amounts of resources for residents and businesses as they regain their footing.
“We have Service BC, and they’re providing support in terms of issuing new driver’s licences … providing passports, social insurance numbers, and (helping people with) EI claims, helping people with those issues,” he said. “For those people who have lost their jobs and are seeking work and looking for training, we have advice and expertise.”
These centres have insurance teams to help residents understand what is covered and what’s not. They even run a “stinky fridge” collection program to deal with all the fridges or freezers that may have gone without power for a while and may contain rotten food.
Returning home to find a home destroyed by fire is a nightmare Patrick Lacey and his family have now lived through not once, but twice. Most recently, the family’s home was lost to the McDougall Creek blaze.
“It’s definitely a lot to absorb. It feels like – it doesn’t feel real. It feels like it’s just the same fire we had three years ago but it just is going to go on indefinitely now,” he said, referring to a separate incident in 2019 when an electrical fire destroyed his previous house.
“I just cried. I mean, it’s a total loss. I never expected to be starting over again.”
Meanwhile, Kelowna Risk Manager Lance Kayfish is urging residents to stay safe when going back to their homes.
“Just have a heightened level of caution and safety when you’re re-exploring your old neighbourhood,” he said.
He also says to keep an eye on kids and pets as some areas may still have active fire hotspots, referring to them as ash pits. Fallen trees and other damage from the wildfires are also something to be mindful of.
In addition, Kayfish says wildlife has returned to many areas, citing recent bear sightings.
Schell commends everyone who is working to support the residents, as well as “all the good work (BC) Hydro is doing to try and get those areas opened up as soon as possible to get people in there safely.”
Before reentry, residents are urged to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice if the situation worsens once again.
The McDougall Creek fire is the largest wildfire in the history of West Kelowna.
With files from Kate Walker