Hundreds forced out of their homes as Okanagan wildfire rages on in B.C.
An evacuation order remains in effect in Olalla, a community just north of Keremeos, B.C., as a wildfire classified as “out of control” continues to grow, impacting nearby residents.
Sandy Diaz, a resident of the community, stepped out of her home on Friday and was told she could return later in the day, but was forced to stay out for the night, leaving behind her husband, who has dementia, at home alone.
“Who’s making all these rules?” she asked in an interview with CTV News.
“I’m here waiting for a permit. Imagine, a permit that they will issue for me to go home,” she added.
As of Saturday, 547 properties had been ordered to evacuate, including the entire community of Olalla. An additional 1,050 were on alert, including the whole Village of Keremeos.
Other nearby residents also report feeling frustrated and confused, including Kudrat Mundi, who runs a fruit stand on Keremeos Bypass Road.
“It is a little bit concerning,” she said, adding that her business is starting to struggle a bit following the closure of Highway 3A, which passes through both Olalla and Keremeos.
“Business has slowed down an immense amount. It’s actually been kind of creepy how quiet it’s been lately,” she said.
“We have a lot of fruit that’s going to start going bad if we aren’t going to be able to keep selling it,” Mundi added.
She said 18 people work at her store and they're are prepped in case they need to leave at a moment's notice.
According to BC Wildfire, 426 firefighting personnel are on site currently working tirelessly to mitigate the spread. They're being supported by 15 helicopters and 42 pieces of heavy equipment.
The fire remains at 5,903 hectares and its cause is unknown. Part of the challenge in containing the blaze is the terrain, according to Taylor Shantz, an information officer with the BC Wildfire Service.
“Crews are working very hard, but it’s also difficult work and it’s tough to get machines, crews in,” she said, adding that the wind has not whipped up to further fan the flames.
“That’s favourable for us to have our crews working and to be able to put in contingency lines. Anytime you have strong winds, that’s just going to provide more oxygen to the fire and fuel more aggressive behaviour,” Shantz explained.
For Diaz, patience wore thin and she refused to wait any longer to return home, despite the evacuation order. She finally received special permission to care for her husband and was escorted back home by the RCMP.
“Thank you! Thank you very much! Happy ending. I’m going home!” she said before heading back to her property.
However, it's unclear how much longer she'll be able to stay there as the fire moves closer to the community, day by day.