KELOWNA - Firefighters have yet to contain the Philpott Road wildfire, which now covers 400 hectares of Joe Rich east of Kelowna.
The blaze broke out yesterday afternoon, Aug. 24, near Highway 33 on Philpott Road and forced the evacuation of 474 properties and about 1,100 people in the community of Joe Rich. The fire charred grass, bush and timber about 25 kilometres east of Kelowna. Officials say no homes or other structures have been damaged.
Firefighters from the B.C. Wildfire Service, the Joe Rich, Ellison, Kelowna, Peachland, Lake Country, and 10 other fire departments throughout the Interior continue to work the blaze.
Kevin Skrepnek with the B.C. Wildfire Service says it's unclear what percentage of the fire was contained this afternoon, Aug. 25, but ground and air crews were making progress fighting the blaze despite the challenging, steep terrain.
The blaze was classified mainly as a ground fire with smoke but no significant flames, although weather could worsen conditions, Skrepnek says.
Emergency Management B.C. says 264 people from the community had registered at an evacuation centre in Kelowna.
Norm Parks of the Transportation Ministry said Highway 33 remained closed Friday and local detour routes have been established.
Area property owner Jeremy Ford said the blaze began as a spot fire along Highway 33. By the time he had called for help, it was already racing through grass and bush into a heavily treed area.
Ford said he ensured his family was safely out and then remained behind to help others.
"I stayed there until the last minute to help out my neighbours because they have got animals," said Ford, who added he released the animals from a neighbouring barn just as police ordered him to leave.
"So now the animals have got a chance to live and not be cooped up in a pen in the fire. That's all we can do."
Cynthia Row said she was running on trails through the hills above Highway 33 when flames began shooting up trees around her, blocking the path and forcing her to bushwhack downhill toward the highway.
She ran into a wall of fire before she reached the safety of the road, but was able to sidestep the flames.
"I was terrified and now I'm just in shock," she said.
"I've never been this scared in my life. I've had encounters with bears. I've been lost for days. I've been in trouble, and I've never experienced anything like this. It was frightening.
"I'm very lucky I got out."
Residents can see which properties are still under evacuation order at www.cordemergency.ca.
The Emergency Support Services reception centre set up at the Willow Park Church, 439 Highway 33 West in Kelowna opened at 10 a.m. today, Aug. 25, to help any people affected by the Evacuation Order.
The Canadian Red Cross says with the support of the Provincial Government, residents affected by the Philpott Road wildfire are eligible for up to $600 financial assistance per household by registering with the Red Cross. Register by going online to redcross.ca or by calling 1-800-863-6582.
For the very latest updates and information go to the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations website here.
You can follow Emergency Operations on Facebook here or on Twitter here.
— With files from The Canadian Press
— This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25, 2017 with information from the B.C. Wildfire Service.
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