Contributed Vanessa DeDominicis and her two twin daughters Adrianna and Natalia with Lake Country firefighter after returning home following the lifting of their Okanagan Centre wildfire evacuation order.

Scrambling to escape Okanagan Centre wildfire

Lake Country youngster offers child’s perspective on evacuation from her home.

Lake Country fire fighters are likely to always have a special place in the heart of Adrianna DeDominicis.

The six-year-old Lake Country resident was at ground zero where the Okanagan Centre wildfire started.

Adrianna along with her twin sister Natalia and their mom Vanessa were playing on the Okanagan Lake beach near their home off Okanagan Centre Road West on July 15 when the fire was ignited.

The trio saw the initial smoke and scrambled quickly to get back to their house, only to be greeted by a forest fire 200 yards away from them.

Vanessa said she quickly phoned her husband, a realtor who was working at the time, about what was happening and scrambled to evacuate.

Their house was ultimately saved, but Vanessa has come to realize that while adults are dealing with the stress of that moment of being evacuated and what happens next, that sometimes lost in that emotional upheaval is how it impacts children.

You can try to hide your own feelings in the moment and make your kids feel everything is okay, she said, but evacuating your home with no notice and seeing a fire that close is not easily dismissed.

“My husband and I were obviously talking about what had just happened and what we were going to do through that first night, watching social media and television to see if our house was going to burn or not—we could see the water bombers bombing around our house on TV— and telling our kids it was going to be okay,” she recalled.

“But they hear those conversations and it has an impact on them.”

After staying at a relative’s house in Lake Country until the fire was contained, Vanessa said her daughter decided after the first few days back home to write a letter to the Lake Country Fire Department thanking them for saving their house and telling their story of escaping the flames.

“She had trouble sleeping after we returned home so I think in a way this was kind of cathartic for her to write this,” Vanessa said.

Recalling the events of the day the fire started, Vanessa said she and the kids had been playing on the beach, but the wind had picked up that Saturday afternoon so they decided to start walking back home.

“We came up a trail near (Okanagan Road West) and Adrianna started screaming that there was a fire on the hill above us. It was literally right there in front of us,” she said.

The walk turned to a run as they quickly reached their home and had mere minutes to grab what they could before getting out of harm’s way.

“I phoned my husband right away and said ‘what do I take,’ and he said to grab the computer and hard drive and medications, that sort of thing. I told the girls to grab a stuffy and their blankets.

“We were very focussed in those few minutes but I didn’t think to grab our passports or the birth certificates.

“We just weren’t prepared for something like this. But we will be from now on.”

Vanessa said the fire was so close to homes at that point, she remembers thinking about the property owners above them along Nighthawk Road and how they were directly in the path of the fire.

“My husband and I were talking later about how we wished we would have grabbed this or that before leaving the house, and at one point Adrianna said to me, ‘But mommy, you saved our lives.’

“That really hit home for me hearing that. We were talking about things we could have taken with us when the most important thing was nobody got hurt.”

When the family were able to return home, their house was still standing but their backyard was severely charred by the fire and fire hoses were everywhere as firefighters were continuing to douse spot fires.

“We were telling our kids that everything was going to be okay once the evacuation order was lifted, but there was still a firetruck in our driveway when we returned home.

“But the firefighters were very reassuring. They told the kids they were going to be alright and I think that meant a lot coming from them rather than hearing it from mommy and daddy. It validated what we were saying and I appreciated they took the time to do that.”

Vanessa said Adrianna plans to talk about her fire experience for her show and tell contribution when she starts Grade 2 in the fall.

She said police have already interviewed them in connection with the ongoing investigation to determine the cause of the fire.

“We were right there but we really didn’t see anything. We had to explain to our kids that the fire was apparently intentionally set by someone, and we pass it off to them as someone doing something silly, that sometimes people make mistakes,” she said.

“But while you try to justify an explanation of why that would happen for your kids to understand, the reality is there is no justification. You just can’t justify something like that.”

RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said the investigation into the Okanagan Centre wildfire is continuing, saying the fire is believed to be human-caused but any information leading to that conclusion has not yet been publicly released.

“There has been some confusion as we have not made the same determination with relation to the Elephant Hill wildfire (hear Ashcroft), but it has been reported as such on social media and by some media agencies,” Moskaluk said.

Moskaluk said police the public is encouraged to call the tip line at 250-707-8025 if they have any information relevant to the Okanagan Centre wildfire and to remain vigilant in reporting any suspicious activity given the ongoing extreme fire hazard.

“We are still receiving tips and vetting them. But we ask people not to be shy about contacting us if they have information, photos or video footage that might be helpful.”