Judie Steeves is a former reporter with the Capital News who is now retired. She is a long-time resident of the West Kelowna Estates neighbourhood and offers her insights into the experience of being evacuated from her home as the McDougall Creek firestorm burned right up to her doorstep.
The skyline was a red glow with eruptions of brilliant yellow and orange licks of flame and our neighbourhood was lit with an eerie light.
We knew we wouldn’t be spending the night in our own bed.
As we rushed around our home snatching a few paintings from the walls, and packing some food and vital papers into the RV, we mentally tried not to imagine losing all that we had gathered over many decades, in the wildfire that had pulsed to life on our doorstep.
Driving away from home, we continually had a clearer view of the forest fire that was engulfing the forest and everything in its path, as it was pummelled by gusty, strong winds that sent burning branches ahead willy-nilly.
As we crossed the bridge, flames appeared ahead of us as a new wildfire sparked in Kelowna.
We learned later this was started by embers crossing the lake from the McDougall Creek wildfire we were fleeing from.
In the dark, we made our way to our friends and parked our vehicles among the trees before heading down to the lakeshore with them to see the catastrophic spectacle spread before us.
Smoke was roiling into the sky and flames were leaping up Westside Road before the wind, sending sparks ahead and starting trees that ignited in a flash, candling like torches.
Then we realized some of those spot fires were in the shape of squares, and with a sinking feeling, we realized homes were being torched between the water and the road, all the way up the lake and around the bend that is downtown Kelowna.
It was the stuff nightmares are made of.
It flowed fast, like a river, and it overtook everything in whatever path it chose to take, leaving a home here and a garden there – capriciously.
The next day, those winds shifted from north to south, and the homes that escaped the blaze on Thursday night, Aug. 17, and in the early hours of Friday morning, got the full force of a ferocious wildfire that bore down on them Friday afternoon.
That’s when the West Kelowna Estates neighbourhood felt its fury.
Former West Kelowna fire chief Bill Bredin always warned me these heavily forested lands interspersed with flammable homes and cedar shake roofs were “an urban-interface fire waiting to happen.”
He was proven right that night.
Although we are not yet sleeping in our own bed, we are home now, after 17 nights camping in Kelowna.
The RV continues to be an essential part of our lives, but thanks to the clearly herculean efforts of firefighters, our home is still standing, and eventually, we’ll be able to move back in with all the ‘treasures’ we’ve collected over the years.
The view from our big cracked windows is entirely different, with just chimneys instead of our neighbours’ homes, and we hardly know how to greet them to acknowledge what they must be going through.
Personally, the loss of all our majestic evergreens is also heartbreaking and we know that treasure will never return in our lifetimes.
We hope the birds we’ve so enjoyed watching flit from branch to branch amongst their swaying limbs, will find new homes nearby.
The deer seem bewildered that they’re now able to enter the yard they’ve been barred from grazing in, but they’re finding nothing but a bit of water in the remaining cement birdbath.
However, other than doors and windows where the fire knocked and the firefighters refused to let it in, our home is safe.
Flame chewed on the patio chairs and the patio itself but firefighters stood firm there and did not let it eat the whole meal.
Mature landscaping, fences, sawhorses, birdhouses and wine barrels full of geraniums are in the ashes, while plastic pots, composters, hoses and irrigation have melted to nearly nothing.
Those firefighters saved our home.
They took a stand here and they told the flames with their streams of water and their sweat and possibly even their tears – that it was not taking this house.