A helicopter fills its bucket with water from Vaseux Lake Monday during the ongoing firefighting efforts. (Mark Brett - Western News)

Wildfire crews credited with saving Okanagan raptor rehab centre

The manager of SORCO is thanking the B.C. Wildfire Service crews for helping save the facility

Without the “incredible” efforts of B.C. Wildfire Service crews the manger of SORCO Raptor Rehab Centre does not believe facility would still be standing.

At one point last week flames from the Eagle Bluff wildfire got to within less than a half kilometre of SORCO and next door neighbour Burrowing Owl Conservation Society’s pens.

And it was only those firefighters who stood between the wildlife centres and the rapidly advancing flames.

“Honestly I can’t thank them (fire crews) enough, they were the ones who saved us, there was nothing we could do, we were in their hands,” said Dale Belvedere who has been at the centre for 11 years, the last four as manager. “When we saw them come down from fighting the fire their faces were completely black, all you could see were their eyes and their lips.

READ MORE: RDOS rescinds evacuation alert for 41 properties near Eagle Bluff wildfire

“I personally have the most incredible respect for them and I know the whole SORCO family has so much respect for them.”

For over a week crews have been going back and fourth through the Nature’s Trust SORCO property to get access to the nearby fire.

While all of the birds from both her centre and Burrow Owl were moved Sunday after the evacuation notice was issued, Belvedere decided to remain behind.

It was Tuesday evening when she saw exactly the dangers the men and women fighting the fire were facing.

“There were about 12 of them hiking up the mountain to fight it and then all of a sudden the helicopter went in and brought them all down,” she recalled. “That’s when the whole mountain exploded in flames on the south side, obviously they knew then it was going to ignite and they got them out of there within a minute, it was just craziness what we were seeing.

“Now every time they come down I make a point of going out there and thanking them.”

READ MORE: Friendly falcon now in residence at Okanagan raptor rehab centre

Belvedere also credited the work of the aircraft pilots who she said were flying up to 14 hours a day.

“As long as they had the light and wind in their favour they weren’t stopping unless they had to,” she said.

Along with verbally thanking the crews, Belvedere has put up a hand-written sign at the property’s entry and exit points the firefighters pass by on their way to and from the fire.

The evacuation notice has since been lifted and as of Monday SORCO, located on the west side of the highway west of Vaseux Lake, was back in business for now at least.

Houdini, SORCO’s resident great horned owl was the first one to return home.

“It was just so strange not having the birds to feed,” said Belvedere, who admitted being in tears at one point. “Since I’ve been here there’s never been a time when we were empty like this, I mean you always hear the birds squawking and there was nothing, it’s just really, really hard to explain.”

SORCO has nursed thousands of raptors back to health and released them back into the wild during it’s existence.


 

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Firefighting helicopter returns to the Eagle Bluff wildfire Monday morning. (Mark Brett - Western News)

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