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Bus tour gives West Kelowna residents space to process wildfire damage

Affected neighbours given chance to reconnect and bear witness to the aftermath
13 members of the Wilson’s Landing Fire Department lost their homes to last month’s wildfire. Wilson’s Landing Firefighters Association photo

Annick deGooyer knew that her family’s home of more than 20 years had been destroyed by the McDougall Creek wildfire that consumed scores of properties in West Kelowna, B.C., about three weeks ago.

But she expected more to remain than the pile of “ashy dust” atop the foundations that she and her firefighter husband Rob Baker viewed last Friday while on a bus tour of the devastated neighbourhood of Trader’s Cove, on the west side of Okanagan Lake.

“You would think a whole house, when it burns, it would take up more space,” said deGooyer.

The Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre has been taking homeowners on the bus trips since last week, allowing residents to see the ruin of their homes firsthand.

The tours have been shocking for some, and a counsellor has joined the trips. But homeowners say they have also given communities and neighbours a chance to reconnect and discuss what comes next.

The operations centre said only residents whose properties have been destroyed or are uninhabitable are being invited on the tours.

“This process is to ensure those who have received devastating news have the privacy, time and space to be the first to see their properties,” it said in a statement last week.

DeGooyer’s husband is among 13 members of the Wilson’s Landing Fire Department who lost their homes to the wildfire. She said neighbours from six or seven households joined the tour.

Participants were not allowed off the bus, and as it inched toward her property, deGooyer peered from her seat to see what was left. To witness the destruction firsthand was sad and overwhelming, she said.

But it was also “lovely” to see her neighbours in person for the first time in two weeks. They hugged when the tour ended.

And she knew that things looked much worse in the aftermath of the blaze. Baker, her husband, told her that the day after the fire, the neighbourhood was a mess of downed trees and power lines.

“They have worked so hard on the infrastructure and cleaning things up. We had two really big pine trees next to our house and they have already been cut down. They have done such an amazing job of cleaning everything up,” said deGooyer.

DeGooyer said the fire was like an “ultimate reset” to give her a chance to stop and rethink what she could do differently with her home before moving forward.

READ ALSO: Planned ignitions to cause increased smoke at West Kelowna wildfire