Heritage Hills evacuees feeling lost, sad, but thankful for firefighters' efforts - InfoNews

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Heritage Hills evacuees feeling lost, sad, but thankful for firefighters' efforts

The Christie Mountain wildfire has grown to 1,400 ha and forced the evacuation of residents of Heritage Hills yesterday afternoon, Aug. 18, 2020.
August 19, 2020 - 6:30 PM

Heritage Hills residents are reeling after suddenly being forced from their homes by a raging wildfire yesterday.

Evacuees were registering at the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen’s evacuee centre located at 199 Ellis St. in Penticton after being forced from their homes by the Christie Mountain wildfire threatening their neighbourhood on the east side of Skaha Lake late yesterday, Aug. 18.

Regional District Director for Area D, Ron Obirek, and his family were among the evacuees.

“It was quite the experience. I was in the community when I was first alerted to the fire,” Obirek says. He called the fire department which was already dispatching to the site.

Within minutes, he says air tankers and wildfire personnel arrived.

“It was shocking, there was worry that it would come down into the neighbourhood, but the wind was northerly, blowing away from the community at the time,” he says.

Obirek says firefighters told him the fire was at least a 40 minute walk up the mountain. By this time they were going door to door, preparing people for a probable evacuation.

He says neighbours were crowding into the streets to watch the fire’s progress through the afternoon.

“The reality is very hard to accept. My first reaction was just simple denial. I didn’t want to believe it was happening, I didn’t want to believe it to be true,” he says.

He says the evacuation was orderly and polite, everyone in the same stunned state.

“The evacuation centre was well-run, everyone polite and maintaining social distancing. It was kind of unbelievable, seeing all your neighbours gathered there like a community meeting,” he says.

Obirek became concerned around 8 p.m. and drove to Kaleden to watch the fire. By this time winds had shifted and it was now advancing on Heritage Hills.

“I spent over four hours watching the fire. I thought for sure I would wake up the next morning and hear of homes lost,” he says. "Flames were shooting 30 to 40 feet in the air. I felt sick, sad. I felt afraid.”

He says he was delighted to find the community was largely missed by the fire with one home lost so far. He gives huge credit to firefighting crews who came from the wildfire service and nearby community departments.

“I know they saved homes,” he says.

Heritage Hills resident Susan Kelly says this is the fourth time she and her husband have been evacuated.

She first saw smoke from her Quail Place home around 3 p.m. yesterday, but wasn’t too worried about it.

That changed when her husband came home and said people on Eastside Road at the bottom of the subdivision were warning of an impending evacuation order.

“It was very frightening. This has been our fourth evacuation after living in Kelowna and Summerland. I’m not moving anymore,” she laughed.

The Kellys have a trailer and are staying at a friend’s property.

Cecile Parker, left and Susan Kelly were at the regional district evacuation centre this afternoon, Aug.19, following yesterday's evacuation of Heritage Hills.
Cecile Parker, left and Susan Kelly were at the regional district evacuation centre this afternoon, Aug.19, following yesterday's evacuation of Heritage Hills.

Cecile Parker also lives on Quail Place. She saw the smoke cloud around 3:30 p.m. and thought to herself, ‘It’s not coming here.’

Then she saw planes dumping retardant and realized how close it was.

“By 5:30-6p.m. we were deciding it was time to leave. Some people only had 10 minutes warning. It was pretty scary,” Parker says, adding she’s feeling sad and “a little lost” as an evacuee.

“We’ve never been in a fire. We lived in the city and moved from Alberta five years ago. For the first three years, there was all that smoke in the summer. It wasn’t bad the last two years, but now it’s back. I guess that’s life in B.C.” she says.

VIorel Mazilescu was waiting in the parking lot to register at the evacuation centre this afternoon.

He says he raced home from Canal Flats, B.C., near Cranbrook, when he heard of the fire. He arrived at Heritage Hills around 10:30 p.m., and ended up sleeping in his truck overnight.

“My house is right at the top of the subdivision. It’s backed by Crown Land. Those firefighters did a heck of a job. I have a neighbour who refused to evacuate and I’ve stayed in touch with him,” Mazilescu says.

“Around 2:30 this morning he was getting ready to leave. The fire was coming right down, but firefighters battled and saved a lot of houses,” he says.

“If you quote me on anything, make sure it’s to say the firefighters did a great job."

Heritage Hills resident Viorel Mazilescu ended up sleeping in his truck last night after racing home upon hearing of the Christie Mountain wildfire.
Heritage Hills resident Viorel Mazilescu ended up sleeping in his truck last night after racing home upon hearing of the Christie Mountain wildfire.

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