July 18, 2014 - 3:01 PM
THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - Firefighting resources are being juggled and reassigned as British Columbia's Wildfire Management Branch handles several blazes, including one that forced about 2,500 people from their homes.
The Smith Creek fire near West Kelowna raged to an estimated 400 hectares by Friday morning, only a day after an evacuation order was issued for the nearly 1,100 homes in its potential path.
Kayla Pepper of B.C. Wildfire said flames could be seen on a hillside covered by grass and trees. She said the cause of the fire that is 20 per cent contained is not known, but there was no lightning in the area.
Operations centre spokesman Bruce Smith said 12 aircraft, 11 ground crew from the province's Wildfire Management Branch, as well as firefighters from around the region were battling the flames.
An emergency reception centre was moved from a local church to a secondary school, he said.
Premier Christy Clark, who represents Westside-Kelowna has been monitoring the situation and visited the evacuation centre today.
Clark also thanked first responders for keeping people and their property safe.
"Our community is strong and will come together to ensure our friends and neighbours have the support they need in this difficult time," she said in a statement.
Dawn Sutton said she was forced to leave her home with her dog, insurance papers and some personal belongings. She went to a friend's house and is worried about losing her own home.
"Of course I'm worried. Am I going to have a house?" she said.
"It's scary, but, you know, I mean lives are more important," she said. "A house can be rebuilt. That's the way I look at it."
Area residents, including the Westbank First Nation and those in Peachland and West Kelowna are being advised to prepare themselves to be self-sustaining for several days.
An extended loss of electricity means residents would need to have enough water for each member of their family, the regional district said.
The fire is burning within 100 metres of the main feeder power line that services Peachland, Westbank and West Kelowna, the district said.
However, the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations later said an additional 150 homes in the area had been added to the evacuation order, raising the total to about 1,250 homes.
Meanwhile, another wildfire related evacuation order was issued late Thursday near the community of Lytton, northwest of Merritt.
The Thompson Nicola Regional District said a wildfire in the vicinity of Botanie Valley was posing an imminent threat to people and property.
The district has issued both an evacuation order and alert for the Botanie Creek area, affecting about 74 properties and 120 people.
AROUND THE PROVINCE
An evacuation order for the district of Hudson's Hope over the Mount McAllister fire was lifted earlier in the day, but an evacuation alert remained in effect.
"Thankfully, due to the cooling weather and rain that we received, it tamed the fire enough that we don't think it poses an imminent threat," said Laurel Grimm, spokeswoman for the district.
A lightning strike sparked the fire on Mount McAllister, south of the community in the Peace River valley. Whipped by the wind in what has been deemed the driest summer in B.C. for more than half a century, the blaze quickly grew to more than 200-square kilometres.
The fire was burning so fiercely that B.C.'s Wildfire Management Branch wouldn't put crews on the ground to fight the blaze, and the order was given Wednesday afternoon for residents to flee.
By Thursday morning, 829 people had registered at an emergency evacuation centre set up in an arena in Fort St. John, 90 kilometres east of Hudson's Hope.
One person stayed overnight Wednesday in the makeshift hostel, but the vast majority stayed with family and friends, or in hotels, many of which offered rooms for free to their displaced neighbours. Some 170 Hudson's Hope residents decided to camp out, filling many popular local campgrounds as they waited for word they could go home.
Several residents said the fire had come within 10 kilometres of the town.
Local Fort St. John-area residents flooded the evacuation centre with food and offers of help. The local women's centre dropped off bags filled with toothbrushes, toothpaste, books and teddy bears for the children.
The evacuation centre served as a temporary home for dozens of pets cared for around-the-clock by the local SPCA and city employees.
The response was immediate, said Andy Ackerman, a volunteer at the evacuation centre.
"There's been so much people are bringing in — water and food and just whatever they can — blankets and whatever else," Ackerman said. "It's been just tremendous show of support, which is not uncommon for our communities in the North."
Crews are also working on a three-hectare wildfire sparked Thursday morning on the south side of the Harrison River, four kilometres west of Harrison Hot Springs in the Fraser Valley.
By Friday, the human-caused blaze was listed as 40 per cent contained, although it is still threatening BC Hydro lines in the area 120 kilometres east of Vancouver. Twenty-three firefighters and one helicopter remain active on the blaze.
The Wildfire Management Branch says more than 160 fires are burning across British Columbia, including 17 major fires, about a dozen of which threaten homes or outbuildings.
An evacuation of Murray Lake, south of Merritt along the Coquihalla Highway was issued earlier this week. Several smaller fires in the Penticton and Vernon areas have not yet required evacuations, though several alerts are in place.
Near-normal temperatures of 26-28 C are expected over the weekend in the Okanagan along with a 30-40 per cent chance of precipitation. Winds are expected to increase to 20 km/h gusting to 40 km/h Friday and Saturday as well.
Smoke from the fires is covering several communities in the province. Environment Canada and B.C.'s Environment Ministry have issued a special air quality statement for many parts of the central Interior, from the Cariboo, just south of Prince George, south to the U.S. border.
Advisories have also been issued for Quesnel, Williams Lake, Kootenay Lake, the East Columbia, the Thompson, Fraser Canyon, Okanagan, Similkameen, Nicola, Boundary and Shuswap regions.
The advisories warn smoke concentrations will vary widely due to fire, wind and temperature changes, but everyone in the affected regions is urged to avoid strenuous outdoor activities while people with chronic conditions are advised to stay inside.
— with files from Canadian Press
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