Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes broke down while thanking the volunteers who kept the community safe from two wildfires overnight.
“It is events like this that really show what the community is made of,” he said to a crowd that gathered for an information meeting at the Oliver Community Centre, which has been transformed into an emergency services centre as of Friday night for the approximate 360 homes put on evacuation order.
“You look up in this room full of people and there is my pharmacist, friends and neighbours — it just choked me up,” said Hovanes after the press conference. “It is emotional. I take our little town pretty personal.”
The mayor was watching a windstorm develop outside his window on Friday night when it was brought to his attention two wildfires had started on either end of Oliver. He hopped in his car to see it with his own eyes.
“It was absolutely unreal. I describe it like you were looking into the eye of these flames. It was only a matter of feet from these houses on the west side of Oliver. It was really, really close.”
As night settled in frightening pictures of glowing orange hillsides from the two fires bearing down on the northwest and southwest of the town of Oliver were being shared on social media. But for Monika Reich the terrifying evening started before that.
“My neighbour phoned me and said you have a fire coming over your ridge right behind you. I walked down my driveway to look and the firetrucks were screaming up,” said Reich. “For me it was real when I saw that fire. It takes your breath away, you know it is for real.”
She said her neighbour a few houses over lost his home to the Wilson Mountain fire, another home was burned down just a few kilometres south from the town of Oliver in the Testalinden Fire. Reich believes more could have been damaged had it not been for the tireless efforts of the fire crews and she could not thank them enough.
Residents found out at 3 p.m. on Saturday the Wilson Mountain evacuation order has been downgraded to an alert, allowing 260 families to return to their homes.
“To a degree it is a relief and the other side I am thinking what I am going to see when I go home? Will I have electricity or water?” said Reich.
Adrienne Herbert said the fire also quickly descended upon her street in the Wilson Mountain area.
“My husband went to the driveway and saw the whole mountain on fire. I jumped into the car in my slippers and my child just was wearing shorts and a tank top. It wasn’t enough time to even think of what we had to grab,” said Herbert.
While her husband stayed behind to help the fire crews, Herbert made her way to a friends house when it finally sunk in what was happening.
“My legs began shaking and I went into shock,” she said.
Watching the fire from her accommodations, Herbert wasn’t too sure what shape her house would be in when she returned.
“At night it looked like a volcano had erupted. There were trees still going up in flames at 6 a.m. This was too close,” she said.
Fortunately she was able to access her home early Saturday morning and it was not directly affected by the fire.
As of mid-afternoon on Saturday the Testalinden Creek fire was an estimated 1,556 hectares, while the WIlson Mountain fire is estimated at 316 hectares.