KELOWNA – For the dozens upon dozens of Rock Creek fire evacuees staying in the Kelowna Community Church of the Salvation Army, Friday was a surreal day.
Some tried to get over the shock of losing so much in a blaze that has ballooned to 2,500 hectares.
Others held on to hope that their properties haven’t been destroyed.
Debbie Smith has at The Cowboy Ranch near Rock Creek for years, and now is unsure whether she has a job to return to.
She says with such a short amount of time to grab what she could and get out, she had no choice but to open the gates and let the animals run for their lives.
“We just closed the gate going towards the fire and opened the gates going away from the fire, and called them all out,” she says.
Then, Smith had to dash off herself. She doesn’t know whether the animals survived.
“The last I heard was that my house is still standing, but the ranch had burnt down,” she says.
More than 100 evacuees like Smith checked in to the reception centre Thursday night and Friday morning.
“Most of the people who came out [had] absolutely nothing because they were evacuated immediately,” says Beryl Itani, Emergency Social Services Director. “We had people in bathing suits and beach wear and shorts.”
Teenager Julia Neugebaur is also getting support from Emergency Social Services. She left her home in Rock Creek to visit a friend in Kelowna on Thursday morning, hours before the fire started.
Now, there is nothing left.
“It’s fully burned down,” says Neugebaur.
“We lost everything. Our animals are there…our goats, and chickens, and everything.”
Neugebaur’s mother sent her a photo Thursday night, showing their home completely destroyed by the blaze.
“My mom called me this morning bawling on the phone that our house was gone,” she says.
“[It’s] hard not to be there.”
Bill McGarvey and his Saskatchewan family were camping in Rock Creek when the fire hit. He left the Interior Friday with a lot less than what he came with.
“This is it, what I got on, the clothes on my back are all I took with me,” he says.
With just the clothing they had on, McGarvey and his family were forced to bolt at a moment’s notice.
“We were up just north of the campsite in a swimming hole having a picnic with four generations of our family and went back to the site and they turned us away,” says McGarvey.
Many evacuees, their family and friends are banding together to support each other and hoping for the best, as the fire rages on.