Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Some Okanagan Residents Forced to Flee Fires Are Being Allowed to Return

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Some Okanagan Residents Forced to Flee Fires Are Being Allowed to Return

Article excerpt

Some B.C. fire evacuees allowed home

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OLIVER, B.C. - Hundreds of people who were forced to flee their homes in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley because of a wildfire are being allowed to return, but officials say they should be ready to leave again at a moment's notice until the blaze is contained.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen says residents on the outskirts of Oliver who were ordered to leave on Friday because of the Wilson Mountain fire were allowed to go home Saturday.

An evacuation order for another group residents south of the town, however, remains in effect, due to the Testalinden Creek fire.

The BC Wildfire Service says about 260 homes were evacuated due to the Wilson Mountain fire, which is burning only a kilometre north of the town and had grown to two square kilometres on Saturday.

Provincial officials told a news conference Saturday that the situation appeared less severe than it was a day earlier, as temperatures had dropped and winds decreased.

"The fire activity out there this morning has been quite a bit milder than what we were seeing last night," said Kevin Skrepnek, chief fire information officer for the BC Wildfire Service, who said multiple structures in the area have burned.

"Certainly there's still a lot of work to do out there. The fire at this point is zero per cent contained, but we're not seeing that incredibly aggressive wind event that came through the area yesterday," he added.

Smoke streamed from a mountain overlooking picturesque leafy vineyards in the quiet tourist town of Oliver. Small spot fires burning bright orange dotted the parched brown hillside as air tankers buzzed overhead.

A thick haze enveloped the rural highway and the scent of smoke filled the air.

Some evacuees spent the night at a centre in Oliver and at least one home has been destroyed.

The property was lost in the massive Testalinden fire about seven kilometres south of Oliver, said Zoe Kirk with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

The blaze was ignited Friday evening and by Saturday morning it covered 13 square kilometres and was still growing.

The wildfire service said close to 100 homes were evacuated due to that fire, and the regional district said no new homes have been added to that order.

Emergency Social Services has also been activated at the Oliver Community Centre to help deal with evacuees.

Both fires were burning in scrub brush on steep, western hillsides above the agricultural area surrounding the town itself.

Flames came within about 50 metres of Helena Souto's house, which was saved by the lush orchard between it and the fire zone.

"We had the sprinkler running overnight, that's maybe why it didn't get too close to the house," she told the Penticton Herald on Saturday after returning to survey the damage.

"I didn't expect to see the house this morning. …

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