UPDATE: Wildfire just north of Penticton in mop-up as highway reopens - InfoNews

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UPDATE: Wildfire just north of Penticton in mop-up as highway reopens

A helicopter refills its water tank in Okanagan Lake during the fight against a grass fire in Sage Mesa just north of Penticton, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.
August 06, 2020 - 5:08 PM

Crews are mopping up a wildfire just north of the Penticton and people are being allowed back into the neighbourhood after a tactical evacuation today.

Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen Emergency Operations Centre says the tactical evacuation has been lifted but road restrictions are in place at this time.

The road restriction is in place for properties on Sage Mesa Drive that are north of Ladera Place

Residents in these effected properties on Sage Mesa Drive can return to their homes but must walk in at this time. Vehicles will temporarily not be allowed to access these properties.

Highway 97 was reduced to single lane alternating traffic just north of the city for most of the day, but has since returned to normal flow with all lanes open.

No homes were damaged in the blaze, which reached one hectare in size. Heavy rain this afternoon aided firefighter efforts.

The Penticton Fire Department was called just after 8 a.m. today, Aug. 6, to a grass fire just north of the city in the Sage Mesa area. Visible flame and smoke could be seen.

B.C. Wildfire Service fire information officer Madison Smith said an initial wildfire attack crew and three helicopters were actioning the one hectare blaze, which was out of control.

RCMP have closed roads in the area of a grass fire just north of Penticton as crews work to extinguish the blaze, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.
RCMP have closed roads in the area of a grass fire just north of Penticton as crews work to extinguish the blaze, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.

RCMP assisted with a tactical evacuation of homes and a golf course in the area due to the immediate danger to life earlier this morning.

Jim and Suzanne Kelly were among the properties asked to evacuate. They were both asleep when a police officer knocked on their door just after 8 a.m.

"I had been up earlier to take the garbage out and pick up the paper. I went back to bed and the next thing I remember is hearing voices in my house," Jim Kelly says. "The officer said there was a fire across the gully and we have to get you out of here, so we got out of the house," Kelly says.

The two were waiting out the fire later this morning on the property of their daughter and son-in-law, who live nearby. He says by the time he and his wife were evacuated, his son in law was on scene, watering down their property.

Don Topolinsky lives down the street, just outside the evacuation zone. 

"It started down by the highway and came up the bank. The flames were 10- or 12-feet-high," he says. He arrived on scene in time to help initial first responders roll out hose.

He says the fire was fueled by tall grass and sagebrush.

Don Topolinsky, left, assisted firefighters in laying out hose while neighbour Jim Kelly, right, was being evacuated after a wildfire broke out near their Sage Mesa neighbourhood in Penticton this morning, Aug. 6, 2020.
Don Topolinsky, left, assisted firefighters in laying out hose while neighbour Jim Kelly, right, was being evacuated after a wildfire broke out near their Sage Mesa neighbourhood in Penticton this morning, Aug. 6, 2020.

By late this morning it appeared firefighters were gaining the upper hand on the blaze, although at one point heavy smoke could be seen after some irrigation pipe caught fire.

An emergency reception centre had been set up at 199 Ellis St. across from Cannery Brewing in Penticton, according to media release from the regional district's emergency operations centre.

Upwards of 80 properties were covered by the tactical evacuation on Sage Mesa Drive, Solana Crescent, Ladera Place, Pine Hills Drive and Verano Place.

For a full list of the properties evacuated go here.

Police were warning boaters on Okanagan Lake to to stay clear of the wildfire service aircraft refilling their water tanks. Penticton RCMP deployed a police vessel on the lake to clear an area for the helicopters to drop their buckets into the water.

Penticton firefighters are battling a wildfire in the Sage Mesa area just north of the city, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.
Penticton firefighters are battling a wildfire in the Sage Mesa area just north of the city, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.

Drive BC earlier reported both northbound lanes have reopened on Highway 97 between Wharf Street, around one kilometre north of Penticton, and Burnaby Avenue West, approximately two kilometres south of Summerland, due to the wildfire. Emergency vehicles are in the area and drivers should expect delays due to congestion.

For the latest on the traffic situation go to the Drive BC website here.

— This story was updated at 8:50 a.m. and at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 to add information about the lane closure on Highway 97 and to provide additional information from the B.C. Wildfire Service.

— This story was updated at 10:13 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 to include information about the tactical evacuation of homes.

— This story was updated at 11:04 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 to include new information from RCMP and new photos.

 This story was updated at 12:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 to include information from eyewitnesses and their photos.

—This story was updated at 1:00 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 to include new information from the regional district emergency operations centre.

—This story was updated at 5:02 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 to include updated information about the fire's status and Highway 97 fully reopening.


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