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Shuswap wildfire evacuees seek refuge in Kamloops; recall harrowing escape

‘The fire wrapped around the back of the mountain just at the base of my backyard’
Firefighters from the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources IBAMA meet as a group outside MacArthur Island Sport and Event Centre on Saturday morning, Aug. 19, 2023. (Sean Brady/KTW)

–– Kamloops This Week

Wildfire evacuees have arrived on MacArthur Island in Kamloops, with some saying evacuation orders came too late, while others left before being asked to do so, surprised they hadn’t been ordered out even sooner.

Dustin Carlisle and Dan Malanowich decided to leave their house in Scotch Creek on Friday afternoon (Aug. 18), before the order was given to evacuate.

“The fire wrapped around the back of the mountain just at the base of my backyard, so we got out of there before they even gave the order,” Malanowich said.

“I believe the order was a bit late,” Carlisle said.

The two were in Sorrento to try to see what was happening on the other side of the lake, but thick smoke prevented them from doing so. Malanowich tried to re-enter Scotch Creek to see if his home was still standing, but was turned around in bumper-to-bumper traffic at the intersection of Squilax-Anglemont Road and Scotch Creek Forest Service Road.

Carlisle said with the road closed, some people were stranded beyond Celista, with only boat evacuations possible from there.

The two were prepared to leave and had packed up important documents the day before, but even still, the evacuation came quickly.

“As for personal items and whatnot out of the house, there was really no time. It was just trying to get organized and sorted for it,” Malanowich said.

On Saturday, the pair was set up in the MacArthur Island Sport and Event Centre parking lot with their dogs and truck, among other evacuees who had come to register with Emergency Support Services.

The two spent the night in Barriere, which they said was well organized to receive evacuees and their pets.

“They were polite, courteous and got you in and out. Very smooth there,” Malanowich said, noting he hoped to return to the facility tin Barriere on Saturday night.

Malanowich described their exit from the Shuswap as “frantic.”

“All alerts and everything were very slow. There was nobody doing door-to-door whatever, telling people to evacuate or anything,” he said.

The two were worried about the home and possessions they left behind.

“The worst part is not knowing if our house is still standing or not,” Carlisle said.

Malanowich said he isn’t expecting to hear detailed updates about each property, but said some aerial photos of the area from Scotch Creek to Celista would go a long way for those evacuated.

“It’s everything, so yeah, we’re worried,” he said.

‘The fire was basically on top of us’

Further north, Lori Jones and Vic Bassett evacuated from the shores of Adams Lake at Adams Lake Estates.

Jones said she thinks authorities forgot to evacuate that area.

“The fire was basically on top of us before we even got the alert on our phones,” she said.

Jones said her neighbours were prepared to fight the fire themselves and she believes they managed to save the strata.

“We have fire hydrants in our neighbourhood and we all have water pumps, so we were a little bit prepared to fight the fire ourselves,” she said.

The couple left at about 1:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon. Jones described it as a “panicked” escape in pitch-black conditions due to the heavy smoke.

“There’s debris on the road and embers flying through the sky. They come in so fast,” Bassett recalled.

Prior to evacuating, the two had moved some of their belongings to a friend’s house in Chase. On Saturday, they were planning a return trip to that community to retrieve their items, fearing it may, too, come under evacuation order.

Jones said she knew of houses lost in the area, but not within their complex.

“It’s ugly. Our house is standing, so we’re grateful for that. At least for now, we don’t know,” she said.

While out watering their home and yard to keep stray embers from igniting, Jones and Bassett recalled hearing the “roar” of the nearby fire.

“It was intense. It sounds like a big river, just roaring,” Bassett said.

Jones said the two had to yell over the sound of the fire in order to speak with one another while outside in their yard.

The two are expecting the worst in terms of how long they will be away from their home. Jones said her friends, who were evacuated on the other side of the lake, have been out of their home for 18 days thus far.

Jones also had a similar experience with how late the evacuation order came.

“The order came very late, but we knew. We could see it and thought we should get out,” she said.

Evacuee says not to wait for an order to flee

Shelley Agar left Chase on Friday evening. She said she could see the fire coming down the mountain and decided to go.

“You could just see the fire starting to come over the hill, on the side of the hill, and the highway was shut down between Chase and Sorrento because the fire had crossed,” she said.

That’s when Agar and her family decided to leave.

“We have children with us, so we decided to leave before it was a panic,” she said.

Agar said there was a steady stream of traffic leaving Chase, but noted it was a calm drive into Kamloops, travelling at about 70 kilometres per hour.

She said she could feel the community on that road.

Agar said she is not worried about what she left behind.

“I’m not worried at all. Everything that’s important to us is here. Everything else is memories. We have the grandchildren, our child and the cat. So, at this point, that’s all that matters,” she told KTW.

Agar and her family registered with ESS at MacArthur Island on Friday night and were hoping to get a hotel room in the city on Saturday.

A provincial order announced on Saturday means hotel and motel rooms in Kamloops five other Interior communities are now reserved for evacuees and first responders, with tourists now in hotels and motels being urged to check out early and free up space.

Asked what advice she had for those who remained in Chase and other affected communities, Auger said not to wait.

“Stay safe and don’t wait until the last minute to leave,” she said. “It’s just not worth it.”

Leaving behind a lot, while taking what they can

Christie Lieb and mother June also left Chase on Friday night. The two had just bought a house in Chase and moved to the village from Aldergrove at the end of July.

“We were told to get ready to leave and then all of the neighbours around us left and we thought we better blow this popsicle stand,” Lieb said. “The smoke was so thick. It was so scary. My mom is in her 80s and I just felt terrible, thinking we’ll be driving in the middle of the night.”

Gas stations were crowded and frantic, Lieb said, and there was a lot of traffic trying to get out of town.

“It was quite scary. The fire was coming right over the mountain on the opposite side of the river and you know, the whole experience was like … your chest just crushes because you’re wondering if you’re going to be able to come home again,” she said.

Lieb is grateful for neighbours she had met just over the past week. She was able to pack up some belongings before leaving, including photos and paperwork.

“We had brand new furniture, brand new beds and stuff. That stuff is replaceable, but grandpa’s pictures are not replaceable. Paperwork is not replaceable and she [her mother June] is not replaceable,” she said.

Lieb said she hopes she’ll be able to return within the week.

Sean Brady, Kamloops This Week

About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

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