Cedric Diaz said the sky was “raining embers” as he and his family fled from his grandfather’s Kelowna, B.C. property on Aug. 18, after billowing smoke and intense flames from nearby wildfires forced thousands from their homes.
“We saw smoke – like a column of smoke – and it was becoming bigger and moving closer and closer, and it was coming towards [us],” said Diaz, who returned home safe to Wakefield on Aug. 22. “You just see these big puffs of fire catching onto a house and then jumping to the next one. It just kept growing and growing.”
The Wakefield resident recalled how rapidly everything seemed to happen: from the mounting smoke he and his brother spotted from their grandpa’s pool, to the “blanket of black smoke” that engulfed the entire Okanagan skyline, including the evacuation warning alert that came just minutes before the family was ordered to leave.
“Everything was very immediate with the warnings — it’s like, ‘Have your bags packed, be ready,’” said Diaz, 20. “And in less than five minutes, we left the house.
From that point, it was like a legitimate evacuation. In that neighbourhood, houses were catching on fire.”
He said the flames were so intense that he could feel the heat on his skin. Diaz said he spent much of his final day at his grandfather’s home watering down the roof with a hose so it wouldn’t catch fire from the falling embers.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” added Diaz. “It was brutal.”
Luckily, Diaz’s grandfather’s home did not catch fire. However the family isn’t sure when they will be allowed back inside to assess any damage. Nobody from the Diaz family was injured in the ordeal.
“[The house] doesn’t have any structural damage, so they are really, really lucky,” said Isabel Diaz Irias, Cedric’s mother, who was also on the West Coast trip to visit her father.
“It was really surreal because I’m sitting watching [my son] in the pool and there’s huge smoke coming…. The smoke was coming from across the lake and then it was the fire. The fire was just coming right down the mountains. You could actually see the flames coming down.”
Isabel said the family stayed with friends the following few days before deciding to fly to Vancouver to get a flight home out of a smaller airport, as Kelowna’s was shut down and being used for water bombers. She said her dad has had to find “friends in different neighbourhoods,” as many communities in Kelowna continue to be evacuated due to wildfires that flared up Aug. 15. She said her dad is currently staying in a short-term rental and hopes to return to his home sometime this week.
As of publication date, the McDougall Creek wildfire, which is affecting Kelowna and West Kelowna, had destroyed 189 buildings, according to The Central Okanagan Emergency Operation Centre. According to government officials, 8,000 properties remain under an evacuation order due to B.C. wildfires, while 54,000 are under an evacuation alert. The McDougall Creek fire continues to rage over 123 square kilometres in the Okanagan region.