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Okanagan strong


This week, writing is hard. Cast again into a fiery chaos, there are so many emotions that swirl.


This is not new for our city. I remember the last time that we were here.


Twenty years ago, my family was evacuated from our home.


There was panic, confusion, sadness, unsettled feelings, and difficulty in being displaced. It was hard on our mental health, and we struggled.


The Okanagan Mountain Park fire of 2003 still has a lingering affect on those of us that were here in the city — and the smoke surrounding us today — reminds us of the last time the city rose from the ashes.


And rise we will.


After the last few sleepless nights, there is an eerie calmness about today. As I stand outside, the distant roar of the fires is a sobering reminder of their devastation. So too are the voices of unity and support that have emerged from this crisis.


We know that we are not out of the woods, but the reports from the fire chiefs this morning (Sunday) were more optimistic than previously.


They also told the story of heroic efforts by those waging the war on the front lines. Lake Country Fire Department Chief Darren Lee spoke of the “regular people who have stepped up to be warriors, to protect our villages.”


We owe them so much gratitude.


Right now, I know that we are in shock. We are hurting. We are sad, mad, and feeling

disoriented.


And I wanted to give us all some hope.


To those who are not in their homes due to evacuation orders, I share in your anxiety and longing. The thought of leaving behind memories, possessions, and the familiar comfort of home is heart-wrenching. I remember staring at my packed bags, the uncertainty pressing heavily on my chest, wondering if the house that held so many of my memories would still be standing when I returned.


For those who have lost their homes, words might not be enough to capture the depth of your pain. The place where you once sought refuge, where you built your life, taken by the unforgiving flames – the weight of that loss is immense. My heart aches with and for you.


The miracle of community is most often found in the messiness of the middle. The messiness of a crisis or issue.


And I am in awe of our community.


Yes, there are the first responders that are out there 24 hours a day, fighting on our behalf.

And then there are the silent heroes of our community.


Amidst this turmoil, the strength of the Okanagan shines brighter than ever. I've witnessed heroism in many forms.


From the brave firefighters who have tirelessly battled the flames day and night, to volunteers at the evacuation centres, and the countless residents offering a couch, a meal, or just a listening ear – our community is showing its true colours.


Our community is rallying and will be here to pick up the pieces when the fires are gone.


This sense of community doesn't just provide immediate, tangible relief. It gives something even more profound; hope.


Hope that even in the aftermath of loss, we will rebuild, not just our homes but our lives. Because we have each other.


In these trying times, I've been reminded of a saying that goes, "Home is not just a place; it's a feeling."


The buildings, the landscapes, the physical elements – they form just one part of 'home'.


The other, more significant part is made up of the people around us, our community.


To those who have opened their doors and hearts, thank you.


Your kindness, your empathy, your unwavering spirit is the foundation on which we will rebuild. For now, let us stand together, hand in hand, supporting one another.


In the shadow of the McDougall Fire, the Okanagan isn't defined by the acres charred or the homes lost, but by its resilient spirit and the unbreakable bond of its people.


For this week, I want to give people an opportunity to share:


How are you being impacted by the fires right now, and what your hope is for the future?


I love hearing from you, and would love to read your stories of this last week.


Please email me at Renee.Merrifield.MLA@leg.bc.ca or call my office at 250-712-3620.

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