KELOWNA – It wasn’t until 1 a.m. this morning that John Collinson and Marilyn Doucette found out that their animals were still alive.
Their home is on Philpott Road approximately six kilometres away from where a massive 400 hectare wildfire started on Thursday afternoon, Aug 24.
John and Marilyn were in town shopping when they saw the cloud of smoke over Joe Rich.
They suspected a fire would happen in their area eventually. They bought the home in 2004 after the previous owner decided to move into town shortly after the Kelowna Mountain fire.
"She saw all the horror stories and she right went home and put her house up for sale,” John says. “The next spring, we moved in.”
He says when he saw the smoke Thursday afternoon, his first thoughts were of the animals.
“We’ve got four horses in there, three dogs, two cats and chickens,” John says.
Bentley, a Border collie mix, was locked in the house while Max, a 140 pound Rottweiler-mastiff mix was loose outside. A third dog was staying with them temporarily.
John managed to get a hold of a neighbour who at 1 a.m. today was able to break into their house and get all three dogs and one of two cats.
John and Marilyn call him a hero.
“He’s got a little, tiny, tiny SUV and there were two goats in the back, his stuff and three of my dogs,” Marilyn says. “His car was loaded.”
If his drive out was anything like another one of their neighbours, he likely had to navigate through thick smoke with flames on both sides of Philpott Road.
“A lot of our neighbours weren’t at home because it’s a work day, but one of our neighbours was sitting on her back deck and smelled smoke,” John says. “She got in her car and drove to Highway 33 and when she got down there they already had a roadblock set up.”
She was given ten minutes to return to the house to get her family.
“In that ten minutes she was driving out through the flames,” John says. “It scared the living right out of her. The smoke was so thick the only way she was able to drive out is because she remembered how the road went. She rolled through the flames by memory.”
Marilyn says she’s not very worried about their horses as they get water from a gravity fed source.
“There are some peoples’ horses up there who don’t have water because they’re using an electric pump and the power is shut off,” Marilyn says from the parking lot of the Willow Park Church which has been set up as an evacuation reception centre.
The back door to their vehicle is wide open.
“We’re airing it out,” Marilyn says. “Both dogs have diarrhea. They’re not used to this.”
The latest update from the Emergency Operations Centre says the Philpott Road fire remains out of control but did not grow significantly. It currently sits at roughly 380 hectares.
There are still no reports of structures being impacted, however a more detailed assessment of damage will be made in the days ahead.
Area property owner Jeremy Ford says the blaze began as a spot fire along Highway 33 about 25 kilometres east of Kelowna, and by the time he had called for help it was already racing through grass and bush into a heavily treed area.
An evacuation order remains in effect for 474 properties and about 1,100 people in Joe Rich.
Highway 33 remains closed in both directions from Gallaghers Road to Big White Road. A detour route is available for non-commercial passenger vehicles for those who must travel via McCulloch Road. You can check the highway's latest status at Drive B.C.
Residents can see which properties are still under evacuation order at www.cordemergency.ca.
The Emergency Support Services reception centre is set up at the Willow Park Church, 439 Highway 33 West in Kelowna today, Aug. 25, to help any people affected by the Evacuation Order.
For the very latest updates and information go to the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations website here.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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