Sue Gibb is able to move into her new house after her original home was destroyed by wildfire last year. - Carli Berry/Captial News

Sue Gibb is able to move into her new house after her original home was destroyed by wildfire last year. - Carli Berry/Captial News

A year after the Okanagan Centre wildfire, Lake Country residents return home

Buildings are being reconstructed along Nighthawk Road

A scorched basketball net can be seen between dying trees above Nighthawk Road.

Lines of yellow tape stretch around a concrete building, which is charred and black, aside from a blue in-ground pool. The building stands as a reminder of the devastating wildfire that was deemed an arson and destroyed eight Okanagan Centre homes in July last year.

Sue Gibb is one of the residents that lost her house. A year later, Gibb and her husband are moving into their newly built home.

“We’re very happy to be back on Nighthawk Road, that’s for sure. It’s been a long haul,” she said.

READ MORE: Fire quickly escalated

Gibb was able to live at a neighbouring property for much of the year and watched the construction on her home each day.

“It was a way to heal, and calm us,” she said.

“When you walk into the property in the beginning and you see (your home isn’t there), your brain does funny things. It’s your home, but it’s not there. We would look, or we would drive by the place two, three, or four times a day and so that shock was gone relatively quickly compared to our neighbours who lost their homes as well,” Gibb said. “It was nice to be local and watch the progress on our home.”

Construction workers are busy driving excavators, semi trucks and mini bulldozers on Nighthawk Road, working to rebuild.

Gibb and her husband escaped from their home with just the shirts on their backs.

“We had nothing,” she said.

“We were there for 22 and a half years and our children were raised there,” Gibb said.

Dead trees, a charred landscape and ongoing construction are the only signs left of wildfire in the area.

Brian Thompson also lost his home to the fire, and said moving into his new home in the next two weeks has left him with “mixed emotions.”

“We’re running around buying stuff for our house and you know, we got out of the house with what we were wearing that day,” he said.

Thompson was able to stay on Hare Road with a friend, which is in Okanagan Centre.

“It just all worked out really well,” he said.

During a trip to Summerland, he said he sees it happening again. “We hate to think of it as the new norm but possibly it is,” Thompson said.

READ MORE: Lake Country couple devastated by fire

“I never really thought of it. We did everything we could to plan if there was a fire, we kept the grass down in the backyard and all the rest of it, but it still happened,” he said. “The most annoying thing was the fact that it was arson and you don’t really need that. The amount of money that was lost on Nighthawk Road and they’ll never find the person that did it.”

The Okanagan Centre wildfire took off up the steep hill from the roadside on Okanagan Centre Road West heading straight for their street.

Whipped up by gusting winds, firefighters scrambled to protect structures as the smoke quickly intensified, while batting against steep terrain and houses surrounded by , shrubs, grass and trees.

Insured losses equalled more than $13 million. The Lake Country firefighters also spent 1,114 hours at the Okanagan Centre blaze.

READ MORE: Losses over $13 million in Okanagan Centre fire

Deemed as arson, suspects have yet to be caught.

If given the chance, Thompson wouldn’t have words to say to the arsonist.

“I would hope the law would deal with them, I wouldn’t really want anything to do with that,” he said.

He built his retirement home on Nighthawk Road 18 years ago and is hoping to stay in his new home as long as he can.

@carliberry_carli.berry@kelownacapnews.comLike us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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