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Kelowna  

7. Wildfire burns close

Strong winds tore through Joe Rich on Aug. 24, quickly whipping up a dramatic wildfire that forced the evacuation of about 1,100 homes.

Through the co-ordinated efforts of hundreds of firefighters from the BC Wildfire Service and 15 municipalities' fire departments, no homes were impacted by the 465-hectare blaze, despite coming within “a few hundred metres” of several.

The fire started just before 2 p.m. at the side of Highway 33, near Philpott Road, and quickly spread, forcing the closure of the highway.

By 3:50 p.m., the entire community of about 1,100 homes had been evacuated, and the fire's volcano-like plume of smoke could be seen from across Kelowna.

Helicopters and water bombers buzzed the giant blaze, dropping water and retardant, as a growing crowd of evacuated residents watched anxiously.

Cynthia Row was hiking the High Rim Trail that afternoon, when she realized a fire had grown around her. As she tried to escape, she came face to face with a wall of flame.

“I became very scared, more scared than I have ever been in my life, actually,” Row said.

Turning around, she managed to find a new path back to the highway, making it out alive.

Within a few days, the weather began to work in the firefighters' favour, and by Aug. 28, Highway 33 was reopened, with some short-lived closures to follow.

The same day, Premier John Horgan visited the fire scene and praised the firefighters.

"They started with floods right here, months ago now, and then went right into fire season,” Horgan said. ”They are exhausted, but they keep getting up every day, serving the people of B.C.”

Over the next few days, residents began returning home, as the bulk of fire activity was on the north flank, largely away from most homes.

The final evacuation alert was rescinded on Sept. 7. The suspected cause of the fire was never released.



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