The Berry family is among a group of Naramata residents breathing a collective sigh of relief after flames from a rapidly-spreading wildfire came dangerously close to their homes earlier this week.
Ironically, Mark Berry, who was at home at the time, was first alerted to the situation after receiving a call from someone in his Penticton office who heard about it on the news.
“They said, ‘Is there a fire near you?’ and I said ‘just a second’ and I opened the door and holy crap, it’s right there,” said Berry. “After that we were really hoping for that first bomber because the fire was getting closer, probably less than a hundred yards, and the flames were really swirling down there. A few trees candled and it could have been really bad.”
For Berry and others, including Cyndie Salting who lives on nearby Languedoc Road, the fire rekindled some frightening memories from the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire when they had to quickly pack up their belongings after being told leave.
Although Naramata residents were spared during the 2003 fire as it moved north and east of Kelowna, more than 200 homes and 250 square kilometres of land were destroyed.
Salting described seeing at least two properties that were in “imminent” danger on Tuesday from the fire that consumed 2.9 hectares.
“This was much closer than in 2003, you could see the trees going up and the black smoke and that was definitely alarming,” said Salting who helped direct the first fire truck and alerted neighbours. “The last piece of the fire they were fighting in the gully was directly above a house, within a hundred yards.
“They (firefighters) were there really quickly and I think that’s what saved us. When they hit it with the bombers I said ‘Yes, this is what we need.’”
Those on the scene agreed, in large part, what saved the half-dozen nearby structures was the aggressive attack of the first-response agencies. That included crews from Naramata, Penticton, Kaleden, Summerland and Paradise Ranch Wines, Penticton RCMP and B.C. Ambulance Service.
“That initial attack is immensely important when you get the tankers in the air and they put a little barrier and you can just start hitting it hard,” said chief Tony Trovao of the Naramata department whose men were still on the scene putting out hot spots late Wednesday afternoon. “The crews are awesome and we all worked as a unit and it couldn’t have gone any better. It was an honour to take part in that and when you see things like that (saving homes) happen that’s why we’re in the service. There were a lot of very nervous people for the first hour and a half.”
It is believed to have been human caused and the investigation is continuing. Anyone who may have seen the fire in its initial stages is asked to contact the forestry service, Crime Stoppers or the RCMP.