An evacuation centre was set up at the Salmo Valley Youth and Community Centre for residents forced to leave their homes due to the McCormick Creek wildfire. (Betsy Kline/Castlegar News)

McCormick Creek fire evacuees going home

McCormick Creek fire evacuees will be able to return home as of 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

The evacuation order for the McCormick Creek wildfire area will be reduced to an evacuation alert as of Tuesday at 6 p.m. and at least one affected resident is happy to be going home.

Jim Mullaly lives on Rosebud Lake Road in Nelway and has been sleeping in a motel since he was evacuated on Saturday, Aug. 12.

“The accommodations and the food and all that, it’s all been really good and that, but it’s the emotional frustrations and all that stuff that’s hard to deal with,” he said.

On Monday, Mullaly was looking forward to returning home.

“I know my dog’s really going to be happy to be out of the motel and [going] home,” he said. “I am too because when I go on a holiday, I max out at three days and now this has been about 12 days or something. I’ve lost track of the days here.”

The Regional District of Centreal Kootenay (RDCK) announced Monday that residents will be able to return to their homes at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 22. The decision was made in consultation with BC Wildfire Service.

“We had a conversation this morning with BC Wildfire Service and typically they make recommendations to us based on the fire behaviour and their progression and successes with it,” said Travis Abbey, operations chief for the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), on Monday afternoon. “So they recommended to us that we could remove the structure protection equipment, which is the sprinklers and hoses and all that sort of thing that are protecting the residences.”

The delay until 6 p.m. on Tuesday is to allow structural protection unit crews the time to remove that equipment, explained Abbey.

As of Monday afternoon, the McCormick Creek wildfire was estimated at 410 hectares and was 50 per cent contained. There were 59 people, six pieces of heavy equipment and one helicopter on the scene.

Residents returning to their homes should not unpack their vehicles, as the evacuation alert will remain in place for now.

“The intent with an alert, although the immediate risk to the residents has subsided enough for us to let them back in, we need them to remain on alert with the ability to leave immediately if requested to do so,” explained Abbey.

For Mullaly, who lost all of his possessions in a fire once before, being ready to move is “part of life.”

“It’s one of those things that we just have to deal with. We could get woken up in the middle of the night and told to go again, but like I say, that’s just life,” said Mullaly.

The Nelway resident wanted to express his gratitude to those who have helped the evacuees during the past nine days.

“I’d just like to express my appreciation to everybody that’s been helping us, like for the accommodations, the meals and the volunteers for the Red Cross that have been trying to deal with us,” he said.

Those returning to their homes on Tuesday night should not be alarmed to see an RCMP presence.

“Just be aware that there will be an RCMP presence there to allow that re-entry into the community and just to cooperate with the instructions of the RCMP at that time,” said Abbey.

Highway 6 and the Nelway Border Crossing will also be open as of 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

There were 40 fires burning in the Southeast Fire Centre, as of Monday afternoon, and to date 285 fires have burned 18,131 hectares. The five-year average for this time of year is 302 fires and 6,761 hectares.