August 16, 2015 - 9:38 AM
OLIVER, B.C. – The wildfires burning in the heart of the Okanagan’s wine country continue to threaten prized vineyards and orchards with scores of residents still out of their homes, but B.C. Wildfire says there has been significant progress in the fight against the blazes.
Two fires are raging near the picturesque tourist town of Oliver. Though residents affected by the 300-hectare Wilsons Mountain fire were allowed home Saturday, Aug. 15, about 100 homes near the 15-square kilometre Testalinden Creek fire remain under evacuation order.
Fire information officer Kayla Pepper says the Wilsons Mountain fire “is a smouldering ground fire with minimal open flame.” A crew for 29 firefighters have established a guard around parts of the perimetre with the support of helicopters.
She says airtankers, six helicopters and 95 firefighters continue to work toward getting containment on the bigger and more active Testalinden Creek wildfire.
Mikkel Day, who owns Backyard Farm with her husband, was among the evacuees Friday. She stood in the parking lot of a nearby vineyard on Saturday, watching as smoke engulfed the hillside overlooking her orchard.
Clutching her seven-month-old daughter, Ainsley, Day said buying the two-acre hobby farm nine years ago was their dream and she couldn't even fathom losing it.
"Everything that can be done is getting done, so you just have to let it happen," she said with a sigh. "It's out of your hands. I think they're doing an amazing job.
"I'm just kind of resigned to it. There's nothing I can do. The baby's safe and that's all that really matters."
Day said a large windstorm swept Oliver at around 6 p.m. Friday. By 9 p.m., the whole mountain ridge above her property was ablaze.
The Testalinden Creek fire is seen in this aerial photo on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2015 contributed by the B.C. Wildfire Service.
Image Credit: B.C. Wildfire Service
"It was just totally on fire," she said. "It really lit up the sky."
The young family got the evacuation order just after 1 a.m. but stayed the night. Day took her daughter in the morning to the vineyard across the highway, while her husband stayed behind to douse their land with a water hose.
She said the blaze clearly grew in size on Saturday, creeping further along the ridge. But she said it looked much less active than on Friday and the water bombers had been hard at work all day.
"My husband says down there, you can see a lot of flames," she said. "It looks so much better from up here."
By nightfall, the mountain glowed with bright orange spot fires. Tourists drank wine on a vineyard patio as flames flickered against the dark sky.
Meantime, a blaze that ignited on Thursday evening about 40 kilometres to the east, near Rock Creek, continued to burn. The fire was mapped at 37 square kilometres and about 330 homes remained under an evacuation order.
"This wildfire is uncontained and extremely dangerous," the B.C. Wildfire Service says on its website. "Anyone entering the evacuation area will be putting themselves and firefighters at risk."
Highway 3 east of Osoyoos to Midway has reopened with a 50 kilometre per hour speed limit. Drive B.C. is also warning drivers to watch out for road debris.
Highway 33 remains closed from Beaverdell to Rock Creek thanks to the thick and the danger the forest fire poses. Drive B.C. isn’t providing an estimated time of opening because the fire is still isn’t contained. There is a detour via Highway 6 from Vernon through Nakusp and across Arrow Lake on the Needles cable ferry.
For up-to-date highway conditions go to the Drive B.C. website.
A helicopter snorkling in Oliver, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2015.
Image Credit: Contrbuted/Drew Desharnais Photography
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— With files from the Canadian Press
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015