B.C. wildfire evacuees race to gather essentials after suddenly being forced to leave home

People evacuated from their homes on short notice after a wildfire aggressively burned in the West Kelowna neighbourhood of Glenrosa on Sunday say they had to scramble to throw essential items together and get away.

Tim and Wendy Schall who live in the hillside city on the western shores of Okanagan Lake, were alerted to the fire by one of their daughters who saw the fire coming closer to her parents’ property.

“And I thought ‘uh oh,’ ” said Wendy Schall.

The couple took about 30 minutes to pack their coffee maker, pillows, and sentimental items such as her father’s ashes, jewellery and pictures before police showed up at their door, saying they had to go.

“I honestly thought we would skip it this year. That we’d be safe,” said Wendy Schall. The couple were also forced from their home 10 years ago due to another wildfire nearby.

“There’s no more trees to burn,” she said. “So I thought ‘how much can that fire come down and get us?’  

“I’m a little annoyed you know because this is happening.”

The Schalls are now staying with one of their daughters as they hope firefighters are able to contain the quick-moving Mount Law wildfire, which started on Sunday. It’s currently eight square kilometres in size and classified as out of control.

Tim and Wendy Schall have twice been evacuated from their home in the Glenrosa neighbourhood of West Kelowna due to wildfire. The couple says they are thankful for the efforts firefighters are making to control the latest blaze. (Chad Pawson)

The couple’s property is one of 460 properties affected by the evacuation order issued on Sunday by Central Okanagan Emergency Operations.

‘It’s terrifying’

Gavin Monro and his family also rushed away from their home in Glenrosa, with items hurriedly packed in their vehicle as flames flickered overhead.

“Unbelievable,” said Monro from the reception centre on Monday. “I’ve never seen anything like that. A fire of that magnitude so close and with the smoke over our house like that. It’s terrifying.”

The order was just one of several issued on Sunday as strong winds fanned the flames of some of B.C.’s most dangerous fires burning in the Interior. More than 6,500 properties are currently under an evacuation order in B.C.

‘There’s fires everywhere’

Officials are asking people in fire-prone areas to not put off being prepared to leave home.

On Sunday, many of the home owners arrived at an emergency reception centre in Kelowna to register and to receive food, housing or even clothing, if needed.

Beryl Itani has volunteered with emergency support services in Kelowna for 35 years. She says the 2021 wildfire season is the worst she has ever experienced. (Chad Pawson)

Beryl Itani has been a volunteer with emergency support services in Kelowna for 35 years and says some of 150 people workers met on Monday arrived with only the clothes they were wearing when they left their homes on Sunday.

“We’re asking people to be prepared because right now there’s fires everywhere, all around us,” she said. “This is probably the worst fire season that I’ve ever seen. We’re seeing people from all over the province here.”

Diana Pastran-Caffet was forced to flee her home in Logan Lake on Friday due to the Tremont Creek wildfire.(Chad Pawson)

Diana Pastran-Caffet has been in Kelowna since Friday when she was forced to leave her home in Logan Lake after the Tremont Creek wildfire raced toward the town.

Pastran-Caffet’s home was under evacuation alert before the order came and she had packed belongings and thought she was prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. But when the call came, she said she still scrambled to collect her two dogs and help another resident get out of the town.

“I was quite ready, at the end, we are never ready because as I had everything packed I found a person who was stranded,” she said. “You will never know what you will find, so be ready. Always be ready to help another person.”

Anyone placed under an evacuation order should leave the area immediately. 

Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire.

To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

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