As of Friday afternoon, the Keremeos Creek wildfire situated 20 km outside of Penticton has forced over 1,600 properties into either an evacuation alert or order.
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has set up an Emergency Support Service’s reception centre at the Princess Margaret Secondary School in Penticton, where over 300 registrations have come through in need of support.
“That can range from accommodations, to support with food, help with mental health and family reunification, as well as just providing information as we learn about the fire and the incident and passing that along to evacuees as well,” explains Adam Goodwin, ESS coordinator.
Goodwin added that the community of Penticton and surrounding areas has gone above and beyond for those displaced from their homes.
“We’ve had members of the public donate a variety of gift cards that we can distribute to evacuees as well as local businesses that are partners with the Emergency Support Services, so restaurants, hotels and things like that have gone out of their way to add capacity,” said Goodwin.
One woman and her 11-year-old son are experiencing their first-ever summer in the Okanagan after moving from Saskatchewan last year. The two left their home at Apex Mountain Resort after the fire continued to creep closer to the village, and the entire ordeal has left the two understandably shaken up.
“We love that mountain, so just knowing that it’s not ever going to be the same driving down there or going for hikes along the trails or driving down green mountain road,” described Sarah Patten.
“It’s never going to be the same as it was and it’s heartbreaking.”
Patten says she is just grateful to have a roof over their heads during all the uncertainty.
“Its amazing to be in a community that’s small enough to still care about their neighbours,” explained Patten.
“This is my home and I’m so proud to call it that — we are so fortunate to be safe.”
Another evacuee at the centre on Friday said her main priority when she began to pack up her home was her animals, which are all safe staying in shelters or with her friends. She says the uncertainty of not knowing what she’ll see when she is allowed back to her property is devastating.
“They did the back burn on our mountain, which was intense. it was directly behind our house, and you could see the candling of the trees, you could hear it,” said Lois Wager.
“That’s when it really hit home that I might not have a home. Yes, I’m grateful that I have my family, I have my daughter, I have everybody that’s important to me, but it’s still a home that you built, and you want to be able to go back to it, you really do.”
The Penticton reception centre is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and the ESS anticipates they will be open for at least a few hours on Saturday to support anyone who may still be evacuating.
If you’re on evacuation alert, you’re encouraged to register online at ess.gov.bc.ca, and for those on evacuation order, you can sign up for support at the Penticton reception centre located at 120 Green Avenue west.
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