Hundreds of properties in the southern tip of B.C.’s Okanagan Valley have been ordered to evacuate after a wildfire that sparked Monday afternoon grew quickly within hours.
Fire officials in the region have warned to expect more evacuation alerts and orders.
The wildfire — dubbed the Inkaneep Creek wildfire — is on Osoyoos Indian Band land in between the towns of Oliver and Osoyoos, about 40 kilometres south of Penticton.
It quickly grew from three hectares (.03 square kilometres) to more than three square kilometres over the course of a few hours Monday afternoon. As of 9 p.m. PT, it was seven square kilometres in size. Crews remained at the site overnight.
The Oliver-Osoyoos region is a popular tourist destination, famed for its wineries.
The first evacuation order, covering almost 200 properties, was issued by the Osoyoos Indian Band Monday evening.
Chief Clarence Louie with the Osoyoos Indian Band said the Oliver Fire Department was able to save the houses closest to the fire.
“As far as we know, at this time and moment, no houses have been lost, which is great,” Louie said. “They did an outstanding job.”
Members of the band who evacuated are staying in hotels in the Oliver-Osoyoos area for the time being, he said. Some have elected to stay behind.
Nearly 3,000 customers in the area had their power cut off due to the wildfire for several hours on Monday evening. FortisBC says it was a deliberate interruption in order to support local emergency services in Oliver and Osoyoos.
Meanwhile, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has declared a local state of emergency. Martin Johansen, the mayor of Oliver, says the town, which has a population of about 5,000, has also declared a local state of emergency.
Late Monday evening, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen issued an evacuation order for several dozen properties east of the wildfire.
RCMP and Search and Rescue teams have been deployed to help people evacuate from the area.
Dawn Roberts, a spokesperson for the B.C. RCMP, says members from both the Osoyoos and Oliver RCMP detachments are going door to door, working with the band to ensure people leave their properties.
“There have been physical evacuations that are taking place…. [They’re] working very closely with the Osoyoos Indian Band to make sure that we hit those areas that are most vulnerable,” Roberts said.
Further to the order, several dozen properties in the region — as well as within the town of Oliver — are under evacuation alert and are being asked to prepare to leave if an order is issued.
Evacuees scramble to find accommodation
This fire is among the hundreds of wildfires currently burning across B.C., including over 100 wildfires concentrated in the Interior.
Residents under evacuation have been scrambling to find safe accommodation — an increasingly tough task.
Thompson-Nicola Regional District chair Ken Gillis said there were no accommodations left in Kamloops, Merritt or Salmon Arm.
“They’re absolutely full,” he said.
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen encouraged evacuees to consider making arrangements to stay with family or friends due to the shortage of hotel accommodations.
The weather is also proving difficult. The southern half of the province got no rain over the weekend, and conditions remained hot and tinder-dry. For some areas, it’s been almost five weeks without rain.
“It’s a record season for heat and [it’s] kind of scary looking at the forecast and you don’t see rain in sight,” Chief Louie said.
“Fire season is far from being over.”
Anyone placed under an evacuation order must leave the area immediately.
Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire. To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.
Evacuees are encouraged to register online with Emergency Support Services, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.