WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. — Hundreds of people are being allowed to return to Loon Lake, B.C., more than a month after flames forced them from their homes and destroyed dozens of buildings in the community.
The Thompson-Nicola Regional District lifted an evacuation order for 309 properties in the area, but an alert remains in place, warning residents that they may need to leave again on a moment’s notice.
The evacuation order was issued in mid July when a fire threatened the community, located about 130 kilometres northwest of Kamloops in B.C.’s Interior.
About 40 structures were destroyed by the flames, including vacation properties and permanent homes, said Megan Gregory, an information officer with the regional district.
In late July, local authorities released footage taken by a drone flying over an area devastated by the flames. The video shows the crumpled remains of homes, the metal skeletons of vehicles, piles of ash and blackened trees.
“The landscape, from pictures people have been sharing, has significantly changed,” Gregory said.
A meeting was held Sunday morning to give returning residents information on what they can expect to see and how to deal with some of the things they may encounter, including spoiled food and fridges that must be disposed of.
Overall, people are excited to return, Gregory said.
“From their interactions online and being part of some of their Facebook chats, they’re a great group of people and they’re so happy to be going home.”
A lifted evacuation order is great news, but there are things residents need to remember as go home, said Chris Duffy with Emergency Management BC.
“We want to remind people as they’re returning to their communities to be patient and respect the direction of first responders, local authorities, fire crews and the RCMP that are working in and around their community to keep them safe,” he said.
About 3,800 people around the province remain displaced by the flames and another 9,700 are on evacuation alert.
In addition to the evacuation alert in Loon Lake, an area restriction remains in place, which prohibits the public from entering the vicinity.
Kevin Skrepnek, chief information officer for the BC Wildfire Service, said the ban is in place because fire crews are active in the area and hazards like damaged trees could remain in the fire’s wake.
“Loon Lake itself is in the heart of where the fire did burn,” Skrepnek said.
It was one of 137 fires still burning in B.C. Sunday, he added, but the flames are moving away from Loon Lake.
“It’s seldom an area will burn twice. It depends on how thoroughly it burned through that area, but generally, once a fire has gone through, it won’t go back,” Skrepnek said.
More than 1,000 fires have burned across B.C. since April 1, scorching about 9,000 square kilometres.
Scattered showers were seen across parts of the province over the weekend, but Skrepnek said people shouldn’t get complacent because of the rain.
“By no means, has this rain done much to really alleviate our situation right now,” he said.