Instead of a summer breeze wafting through his open window on Sunday night, Michael Walker got the rude awakening of wildfire smoke coming through his Deer Park Estates home, located north of Oliver.
It was around 10 p.m. and Walker said he rushed to the window of his home in Gallagher Lake to see what was happening.
“There is was, the fire was unbelievable and we could see it travelling around the transformer wires,” Walker said. “Trees were candling and it appeared the wind was blowing the flames down the mountain. I am guessing it was maybe 500 feet from [Highway 97]. We were praying for daylight so the helicopters would come out and put down some water.”
Walker, who lives directly across from where the Eagle Bluff wildfire was burning the mountainside and has the highway separating his residence from the fire, said when he woke up in the morning, it was like a “mushroom cloud” of wildfire smoke was sitting still above the area.
By 2:30 a.m. the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen emergency operations centre had issued an evacuation alert for several properties in Area C. The wildfire, estimated at 200 hectares as of late Monday afternoon, has up to 90 BC Wildfire personnel working on it, with air support. Smoke is highly visible from surrounding communities.
Among the properties on evacuation alert is the South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre for Owls (SORCO). Manager Dale Belvedere said she was told those working on the fire are concerned it could jump a creek right at the bottom of the hill and that they should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
Belvedere made the decision to evacuate all the birds on Sunday night as the flames on the mountainside jumped dramatically around under nightfall. Most of the 30 burrowing owls were moved to the BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops, with the remainder being taken in by volunteers.
“It was unbelievable. It puts the fear of God into you. We have a protocol should this ever occur and that is if humans become in jeopardy, we have to let all the birds fly off,” Belvedere said.
“This was going through my head all night, but then volunteers started showing up and getting them caged up properly to be transported. Honestly, this has always been a fear of mine with this property. We have done all we can on the property, cutting branches and raking pine needles up, but there is always that fear. Unfortunately, we are living it right now and we are keeping our fingers crossed.”
The cause of the fire has not been officially determined by the BC Wildfire Service.