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B.C. officials warn residents to take care when they return to fire zones

The McDougall Creek wildfire has prompted the cities of Kelowna and West Kelowna to declare a state of emergency (Credit: Catherine Woodyard). The McDougall Creek wildfire has prompted the cities of Kelowna and West Kelowna to declare a state of emergency (Credit: Catherine Woodyard).
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As an out-of-control wildfire still burns near West Kelowna, B.C., officials in the region say evacuated residents should brace themselves for their return to neighbourhoods they may no longer recognize.

Officials from the Regional District of Central Okanagan say crews are still busy putting out hot spots and repairing damaged infrastructure affected by the McDougall Creek wildfire.

Lance Kayfish, the City of Kelowna's risk manager, cautioned people about re-entering their communities once evacuation orders are lifted.

Kayfish told an information session held online Tuesday that people need “to have a heightened level of caution and safety” when they explore their neighbourhood because it will not be exactly as they left it.

He says it's likely that wildlife including deer and bears will be in areas where there's been an absence of human activity during the evacuation period.

Some areas, he said, may still have active fire hot spots or “ash pits,” while fire-damaged trees may be in danger of falling.

“So, if you're out and about walking the dog, or children are playing in those areas, please have a heightened sense of safety and awareness with respect to staying away from burned trees wherever possible,” he said.

Kayfish also said creeks and rivers will likely be altered by the fire activity, and he gave “advanced warning” of faster-moving waterways due to damaged vegetation nearby.

Steve Schell, a recovery manager with the regional district, said there are a number of services for people impacted by wildfires, including identification replacement for driver's licences, passports, and insurance and counselling services.

“It's going to be very traumatizing, especially as those (residents) move into these evacuated areas that have gone from an order to alert over the next few days,” he said.

Central Okanagan Emergency Operations said Tuesday that 4,858 properties remain on alert in the region, and 380 properties remain on evacuation order.

Elsewhere in B.C., the latest evacuation order issued due to a wildfire covers a rural area north of Prince George.

The regional districts of Fraser-Fort George and Bulkley-Nechako issued the order Monday night as the 10-square kilometre Ocock Lake blaze moves toward properties in the Noonlang Lake area, about 150 kilometres north of Prince George.

The order is the only one issued in B.C. since Monday, but several other orders and alerts have been ended or downgraded over the same period, including orders covering 25 homes in the West Kelowna wildfire.

Central Okanagan Emergency Operations said residents of properties between the 900- and 1400 blocks of Westside Road on the western shore of Okanagan Lake can go home almost a month after an evacuation was imposed, but they must be ready to leave on short notice.

Evacuation alerts have also been lifted throughout the Westbank First Nation and in parts of several West Kelowna neighbourhoods, including Lower Glenrosa, Smith Creek, Westbank Centre, Shannon Lake and the West Kelowna Business Park.

The BC Wildfire Service reported Tuesday that close to 400 active blazes are burning across the province, with 158 ranked as out of control, while the number of threatening or highly visible fires has dropped from 14 to 11 since Monday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 12, 2023.

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