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West Kelowna evacuees still waiting to return home

About 160 households were evacuated in West Kelowna on Sunday evening when a fire sparked near Bear Creek. In the aftermath of that evacuation, some residents are still struggling to keep calm while waiting to return home.

Evacuee David Lengfellner was at a friend's house in Kelowna when the fire started, and, not knowing about it, he didn't start driving home until around 10 p.m.

<who> Photo Credit: KelownaNow. </who> Evacuee David Lengfellner leaving the Westbank Lions Community Centre after checking in Monday morning.

"As I crossed the bridge, my heart started racing. I could literally see that it was almost on my house,” he said of the orange flames that were “very visible,” from the highway. “It looked like my house was already gone.”

His house is the first one past the Bear Creek campground, and the closest one to the flames, he said.

"If a house will burn down, it seems like mine would be the first one to go.”

His house is still standing, in fact, no houses have been lost yet, but a blockade was set up on Westside Road keeping residents out of the area.

"A lot of people would rip past the block and honk. People would tell them to stop but they'd just rip past because they're scared. They want to get to their pets and stuff,” said Lengfellner. “I almost did that. You think about it because your pets are in there.”

Instead, he was talked out of going past, but tried every other road leading to his home.

"I was driving all across the Westside but everything was blocked off."

He rushed to the evacuation centre, which was closed, but was spotted by a pet rescue volunteer. Luckily, he was able to register his two snakes in need of rescue at 4 a.m.

With his mind still on the fire, Lengfellner said he drove his car as close as he could to his house and watched the blaze. He tried to sleep but was unsuccessful due to his anxiety.

"It was kind of funny because there was a whole flock of cars around me with people inside trying to do the same thing."

<who> Photo Credit: KelownaNow. </who> One of the many houses bordered by fire Sunday night.

John and Zonia Arnold said the whole experience was quite frightening.

The power had flashed off a couple times as they were getting into bed.

“I looked out the window directly into the park and I could see the flash of the orange glow starting,” John explained. "The fire came on very quickly,” added Zonia. "Within half an hour they were saying 'It's time to go, you have to go.'"

John knocked on some neighbours' doors and they both began grabbing items as quickly as they could.

With trees and power lines down on Westside Road, evacuees couldn't go north nor south.

With many trapped in one area, Lake Okanagan Resort provided about 70 families with rooms for the night, one them being the Arnolds. The resort even brought out food for the group of evacuees.

There were two trees down in their driveway which they cleared to allow people to get through.

"They really pulled it together,” said Zonia.

This isn’t the Arnolds’ first rodeo, to say the least. In fact, it was there third time being evacuated.

"This I think was more frightening because the flames were so close and the fire was very aggressive,” said Zonia.

Still, John is looking on the bright side.

"Everything can be replaced except us."

<who> Photo Credit: KelownaNow. </who> Ashley Lohse was just happy to leave with who matters most to her.

Ashley Lohse and her husband woke up at 11:45 p.m. when their neighbour started banging on their front door to tell them that the evacuation had started.

With a baby and two-year-old, they were nervous but moved into action quickly.

"You're conditioned for it,” Lohse said. “You know you're in a fire zone so you try your best to be prepared for this kind of stuff.”

She estimates the fire was less than five kilometres from their house on Rose Valley Road when they left to stay the night at her in-laws’ house, which she said was a saving grace.

Lohse also praised the work of the volunteers who are running the evacuation centre.

"There are people disgruntled because they feel they're not getting through fast enough and that there's a little bit of a lengthy wait. You know what I'd say to them? Be patient, they're here to help and they need their patience right now as well.”

With the BC Wildfire Service still fighting the fire, there is no indication when the evacuees will be able to return home.

<who> Photo Credit: KelownaNow.

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