Hundreds evacuated in B.C.’s Okanagan, wildfire service battles blazes
Penticton has issued evacuation alert for 3,669 properties
By Amy Smart and Hina Alam in Vancouver
OKANAGAN FALLS, B.C. — The sky turned orange before filling with heavy white smoke above John Green’s home in British Columbia’s Okanagan region Tuesday afternoon.
He was among hundreds of people ordered to immediately evacuate from the Heritage Hills area near the community of Okanagan Falls as a rapidly growing wildfire threatened the residential neighbourhood.
The fire on Christie Mountain was among nearly 100 that have ignited in the past few days following a heat wave and thunderstorms in southern B.C.
Green described the scene as he packed boxes and greeted friends who arrived to pick up his pets.
“Now it’s really, really, really heavy white. It’s like, take clouds and times it by 10 for how vibrant they are,” he said, looking out from his deck.
The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen’s emergency operations centre issued the evacuation order to 319 properties.
The evacuation order asked residents of the Heritage Hills area to leave with critical items like medication and eye glasses only if they were immediately available, and to register at muster point in Penticton.
The City of Penticton has issued an evacuation alert for 3,669 properties located in the south east portion of the area. In a statement on its website, the city said the alert has been issued to prepare residents, businesses and visitors to evacuate if needed.
The city is working with BC Wildfire Service and other agencies to assess the situation, it said.
Firefighters and air tankers had begun attacking the fire on Christie Mountain, on the east side of Skaha Lake about six kilometres north of the community of Okanagan Falls, the service said.
The fire was burning in difficult, rocky sloped terrain that made it challenging for ground crews to access. Early reports indicated it was an active surface fire with an organized flame front, the service said.
The fire was estimated at 1,000 hectares late Tuesday evening.
A tweet from the service said 21 firefighters will remain on site overnight Tuesday constructing control lines and additional resources will be arriving throughout Wednesday.
First major wildfire
British Columbia’s Interior has seen record wildfires in recent years, so Green said he was prepared with emergency boxes ready. He said residents had expressed gratitude that amid a year of tragedy, B.C. had thus far avoided major wildfires until now.
“We were very thankful we didn’t have forest fires this year on top of COVID so this is pretty devastating for most people and especially people who are a lot closer to where their houses may be in danger,” he said.
At the same time, he said he had received 50-odd calls and texts from friends offering to help, so the community was coming together.
That fire along with another at Solomon Mountain one has been upgraded to “fires of note” on Tuesday.
An evacuation alert is also in effect in the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary. About 110 people have been affected.
The service said the fire estimated to be 17.5 hectares was burning four kilometres north of Beaverdell, which is in the southern Interior region of B.C., and was caused by lightning.
Hot weather continues
The current fire size may change, it added.
Temperatures in the Kootenay districts are forecast to be around 30 C on Wednesday.
Figures from the service show that among 109 active fires in the province, 95 were started in the last few days.
Ten wildfires in the Pemberton area north of Whistler were burning but not threatening any properties, the service said.
A 10-hectare fire southeast of Lillooet, B.C., was considered out of control but smouldered with no open flame. The service suspects it was human caused, unlike most of the others.
Ground crews, air tankers and helicopters attacked it Monday and multiple crews and heavy equipment stopped it from growing overnight. Twenty-two firefighters and one helicopter remained on site Tuesday.
Hot, dry weather has been a key factor in the new fires and most were caused by lightning, after weekend thunderstorms left a trail of hot spots with most burning in the southeast district. Two were visible from Canal Flats and Wasa, north of Cranbrook.
Crews are assessing all the fires by ground and air and will continue to strategically fight the fires, the service said.