OLIVER, B.C.—Residents in southeastern British Columbia are regrouping from an immense and fast-spreading wildfire that so far has wiped out 30 homes and forced hundreds to flee with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Kerstin Klenheimer and her husband deserted their house when the 37-sq.-km Rock Creek fire broke out Thursday evening.
Yesterday, she stood next to a charred piece of property on the side of a highway and stared into the distance at the fire burning near her house.
“It was like a tornado coming—a fire tornado coming up the valley,” Klenheimer said, recalling the moments before their hasty departure.
“There was no time,” she added. “You just have to run.”
As of yesterday, Klenheimer still had no idea whether her home was still standing.
“[My] worst fear is that everything is gone,” she said.
“We built the home 10 years ago—10 years of effort just going up in smoke is very devastating.”
B.C. Premier Christy Clark visited a community centre packed with evacuees in nearby Midway yesterday.
She told reporters she wants to see harsher penalties for people who start forest fires.
“If you are found to have been throwing a cigarette butt out of your car, perhaps one of the penalties available should be that we should be able to take away the use of your car for a period of time,” Clark said.
The blaze in Rock Creek began by a highway junction and is believed to be human-caused.
The premier predicted the cost of fighting fires this season could balloon to as much as $400 million.
The province budgets for fires on a five-year average, working out to about $60 million a year.
“Whatever we need to spend, we spend it to make sure we look after the people of this province,” Clark said.
The aggressive blaze forced campers at the Kettle River Provincial Park to rush out on foot last week—leaving nearly everything behind, including vehicles and trailers.
Campers were escorted back in small groups yesterday to pick up their belongings.
The winding highway leading into the park was flanked by heaps of destroyed homes and scorched earth.
The biggest challenge to fighting the several aggressive blazes that have flared up across the region has been the strong and gusty winds, said Kevin Skrepnek of the B.C. Wildfire Service.
Some 220 fires continue to burn across B.C., out of a total of more than 1,600 that have sparked since April 1.
More than 900 people remain under evacuation order across the province, including 240 in the Rock Creek area.
Another two wildfires in the heart of B.C.’s wine country, near Oliver in the Okanagan Valley, continued to smoulder yesterday, with scores of residents still forced from their homes.
Though residents affected by the three-sq.-km Wilson Mountain fire were allowed home Saturday, about 110 people living near the 15-sq. km Testalinden Creek fire remained under evacuation order.
The B.C. Wildfire Service reported a stray drone had grounded fire aircraft at the Testalinden fire.
This is at least the second instance so far this year where a drone has interfered with firefighting efforts.