As the forest fires raged in the Okanagan, evacuees arrived on Vancouver Island, fleeing the region from which 35,000 people were put on evacuation notice. As of August 28th, 2,831 properties in the region are still on evacuation orders.
In extraordinary measures, the provincial government issued a non-essential travel ban, asking tourists to stay home in order to keep routes and accommodation free for first responders.
Speaking at a press conference this weekend, Premier David Eby stated, “This order says, ‘Stay off the roads for tourist-related, non-essential travel to stay in temporary accommodation.'”
“Please just stay out of these areas if you don’t have to be there.”
Evacuees Arrive on Island
“I stood paralyzed on our deck, watching the fire trucks race by. [My husband] yelled to me ‘Malindi, grab the kids, let’s go!!’Malindi Elmore
Evacuees like Elaine Lawrence fled her home in the Okanagan and arrived in Victoria. She was not only concerned about the fire but the air quality, which in the Okanagan was ranked 10+ or ‘very high risk’. “The air quality here is so poor, and it keeps getting worse and worse,” Lawrence told CHEK News.
Malindi Elmore and her family were forced to flee their home in Kelowna last Thursday, ending up in Saanich to stay with relatives. Recollecting their escape on her personal Instagram, she wrote:
“I stood paralyzed on our deck, watching the fire trucks race by. [My husband] yelled to me, ‘Malindi, grab the kids, let’s go!!’ I ripped them from bed, my oldest saying, ‘You promised me it was safe!’ As we jumped into the car we were absolutely shocked to see, only 500m from our house, that our hillside was on fire … we fled to friends for the night closer to town.”
To express their gratitude to firefighters, her family visited the Central Saanich Fire Department to deliver thank you cards and sandwiches.
“They saved our house, they saved our neighbourhood. They’ve been instrumental in protecting our house and our city,” Elmore told CTV News.
“Mother nature has a way of actually making sure that we all have to support each other.”Craig Ford, Saanich Assistant Deputy Chief
Like many evacuees, Elmore watched the fire unfold around her home via remote security webcams. It left her with admiration and gratitude for firefighting crews. “Watching the video … they’re putting themselves between a raging fire and spraying it down. And we have homes to go back to because of what they were doing.”
Animal Evacuees Get Support
As families fled, the BC SPCA stepped in to help the pets of evacuees. They provided emergency boarding for animals in need and free food and supplies to any pet owners in the area.
In response to demand, the SPCA sent extra staff to their Okanagan and Thompson-Nicola centres and encouraged anyone who required boarding to contact the BC SPCA Animal Helpline.
“This is an extremely stressful and scary time; we want pet guardians to know the BC SPCA is here to help ease some of the burden they may be feeling,” said local SPCA senior manager Gaelene Askeland to the Kelowna Capital News.
Island Firefighters Respond
As the Okanagan faced the worst wildfires in its history, a record 652 firefighters from the province relocated to the Interior, many of whom came from Vancouver Island.
“The homes and communities saved this weekend in the face of great threats is a testament to the skill and determination of all those working to fight those fires.”Bruce Ralston, Forestry Minister
Four municipal firefighters from Saanich, alongside fire crews from Comox and Lake Cowichan, arrived in the region two weeks ago. Despite concerns over Vancouver Island’s own dangerous fires burning in places like Strathcona Park, Island fire departments offered up every resource they could spare.
“Mother nature has a way of actually making sure that we all have to support each other,” Saanich’s Assistant Deputy Chief Craig Ford told CTV News.
However, Ford remains concerned that severe and dangerous fires could also occur on the Island if blazes continue to rage during an unprecedented drought.
“In my career of 20 years, this is probably the worst case we’ve had in terms of wildfire threat on Vancouver Island,” Ford said to CTV. “We have large tracts of land that are not immune to what’s happening in the Okanagan region and elsewhere in the province.”
Weather Relief Arrived
As temperatures have cooled and the rain has come, the fires in the Okanagan are now under control, with residents beginning to return.
“Crisis has a way of building community as we all look to help each other best we can.”Malindi Elmore
As of August 28, the number of homes destroyed or damaged by the McDougall Creek wildfire stood at 189. However, this number would be much higher if it weren’t for the work of firefighters.
“The homes and communities saved this weekend in the face of great threats is a testament to the skill and determination of all those working to save those fires,” Forestry Minister Bruce Ralston told CTV News.
As evacuee Malindi Elmore wrote on her Instagram, describing her own family’s harrowing escape from the Okanagan, “Crisis has a way of building community as we all look to help each other best we can.”