WEST KELOWNA, B.C. - Thousands of residents of fire-ravaged West Kelowna, B.C., returned home Tuesday, eager to once again sleep in their own beds yet nervous about plumes of smoke billowing overhead.
The evacuation order for 6,000 residents of the city's Glenrosa neighbourhood was downgraded to an evacuation alert Monday night.
Less than 12 hours later, and with the sun barely risen, residents began lining up at an RCMP roadblock so they could go home.
"This is like a dream come true that we can come home to our buildings and everybody's safe," Rosalyn Taylor said outside her home, a smile beaming from her face.
"To me, (it was) very unnerving because I've never experienced anything like this in my life. It just tells you what's important in life. It's human life, period."
Approximately 3,500 Glenrosa residents remain on an evacuation order. Another 1,250 West Kelowna residents have been displaced by a fire in Rose Valley.
Residents who returned home Tuesday have been warned they could again be told to leave at a moment's notice if the Glenrosa fire's status changes. Fire officials say the blaze is 60 per cent contained.
But while residents recognized they might not be home for long, some, like Leah Sharpe, said they were just grateful for whatever time they received.
"At least now we can get things organized if we do need to evacuate again," Sharpe said, clutching her dog Louie close.
Jim Perry, who hasn't yet received permission to go home, said he's hopeful word will come at any moment.
"I understand what they're doing because the fire started just up here. If you went up there where it started and moved backwards to where I am, it's only two acreage blocks," he said, showing no qualms about being locked out.
"When the fire started . . . if it would have been blowing the other way, we would have never got to our house. Everything up there would have burned to the ground. So we were very fortunate."
Some residents ignored the evacuation order and never left at all. Brante Farrell was one of them and admitted Tuesday his decision led to some tense moments.
"It was a longer go than I thought and I had a few moments where I wondered if the fire was going to head back this way but it was really just keeping a close eye on things and waiting it out," he said.
"Sometimes the smoke started to gather around the house again and when you stepped outside, it really smelled strongly. Occasionally, the wind was moving smoke this way but I never saw a single fire. I never saw a single ember enter the yard."
Farrell kept a gas mask nearby and had his truck pointed at the road so he could leave at a moment's notice.
James and Sheila Gardiner also refused to leave their home, though they did make plans to evacuate their loved ones: horses Amethyst, True, and Buddy.
They appeared excited to return home Tuesday, rolling around in the dirt.
"The horses sensed even before you could see the smoke and stuff. They were starting to get stressed then," James Gardiner said.
The Glenrosa fire has remained at approximately four-square kilometres in size since Sunday.
A second fire, in Rose Valley, is now 30 per cent contained, and a third, at Terrace Mountain, is 10-square kilometres but fire crews say they're making progress in that battle.
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell was to arrive in West Kelowna on Tuesday for the first time since the fires broke out to meet with crews and evacuees.
West Kelowna, Rose Valley
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