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Shuswap winery, vacation home saved from wildfire ‘thanks to those who stayed behind’

Staff of Celista Winery stay in fire zone to fight flames
Image of the Bush Creek East wildfire. (Cory Erlandson)

The North Shuswap continues to burn as the Bush Creek East wildfire ravages the region.

The wildfire sparked on July 12, prompting evacuation alerts and orders over the past month.

On Aug. 18, fire activity picked up and more people were forced to flee. The number of structures lost isn’t yet known.

The wildfire tore through Celista and scorched land up to the property edge of Celista Estate Winery. Owner Jake Ootes told Black Press Media his property is still standing, but the smoke has likely destroyed his grape harvest and damaged buildings.

“It’s been a very, very stressful situation not having knowledge of what’s happening there.”

Ootes and his wife evacuated the property around 3 p.m. on Aug. 18.

The couple got out just in time according to Ootes, who said shortly after they stopped at the gas station at Squilax-Anglemont Road and Little Shuswap Lake Road the fire ripped through the area and allegedly flattened Race Trac Gas.

The Ootes made it to Kelowna to stay with family while they wait for the thumbs up to head home.

“It wasn’t until Monday I found out through satellite images that it seemed OK, and then we had confirmation of someone going up to our place and they took a picture of the house.”

Watching TV in Kelowna, Ootes said regional district and local fire chiefs from the Central Okanagan were doing daily updates on the Grouse Complex wildfire, but little was heard about the situation in the Shuswap.

“What was interesting in our case, I was kind of keeping track, listening to chatter on social media it seemed as though the fires were getting worse and worse.”

Ootes believes the Shuswap would have benefitted greatly from daily press conferences similar to the ones the Regional District of Central Okanagan has been hosting. Columbia-Shuswap Regional District started video information updates on Aug. 22.

A handful of Shuswap residents have stayed behind in evacuation order zones in hopes of saving their homes. Ootes said some of his staff decided to stay.

“I’m in touch with them and they’re very happy that they stayed because they did save their properties.”

Kamloops resident Cory Erlandson has a vacation property in Scotch Creek. He shared a video with Black Press where he talked about his experience with the fire.

Erlandson said the evacuation order came down the afternoon of Aug. 18. He had gone in just before to grab his boat and other important items before heading to Sorrento.

Erlandson took his boat out on Shuswap Lake and watched trees candle right behind the vacation house.

“At that point, we decided to anchor up out in the middle of the lake and watch the thing go.”

He spent the night on the boat and travelled to shore to look at the devastation the next morning.

“You could see that somebody had come in with an excavator and cut that little section of trees out that was starting to go up so that it couldn’t burn. So, after everyone had been evacuated somebody must have driven down that road, saw what was happening, and grabbed their excavator.”

Erlandson said whoever this person is saved a countless number of properties.

Forrest Tower with BC Wildfire Service said, “We want people to leave in evacuation orders, but if they have made the choice to stay on private property if you want to do that, you need to communicate with us. There are ways we can work together.”

A large contingent of wildland firefighters, nearing 150 members, is on its way to the blaze, said Tower, as part of a provincial system that sends resources to fires based on need. He said Bush Creek East is now ranked number one on B.C.’s emergency Resource Sharing Wildfire Allocation Protocol (RWSAP).

READ MORE: Where to donate: Groups, businesses accepting support for Shuswap evacuees


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About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

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