Forest fire between Oliver and Osoyoos spreads and evacuation orders are issued for hundreds of properties
Hundreds of properties in the southern tip of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley have been ordered to evacuate after a wildfire that broke out Monday afternoon quickly escalated within a few hours.
Firefighters in the area have warned to expect more alerts and evacuation orders.
The wildfire – known as the Inkaneep Creek Wildfire – is located on Osoyoos Indian Band lands between the towns of Oliver and Osoyoos. It quickly grew from three hectares to over 300 hectares in a few hours Monday afternoon. At 9 p.m. it was 700 hectares. The teams will stay on site overnight.
BC Wildfire Service staff reported “aggressive fire behavior”.
The Oliver-Osoyoos region is a popular tourist destination, renowned for its vineyards.
The first evacuation order, covering nearly 200 properties, was issued by the Osoyoos Indian Band on Monday evening.
Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band said the Oliver Fire Department was able to save the homes closest to the blaze.
“As far as we know, at that point and that time, no homes have been lost, which is great,” Louie said. “They did an amazing job.”
The evacuated group members are currently staying in hotels in the Oliver-Osoyoos area, he said. Some have chosen to stay.
Nearly 3,000 customers in the region were cut off from electricity due to the forest fire for several hours on Monday evening. FortisBC says it was a deliberate disruption in order to support local emergency services in Oliver and Osoyoos.
Meanwhile, the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District declared a local state of emergency. Martin Johansen, mayor of Oliver, said the town, which has a population of around 5,000, has also declared a local state of emergency.
Late Monday evening, the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District issued an evacuation order for several dozen properties east of the wildfire.
RCMP and search and rescue teams were deployed to help people evacuate.
British Columbia RCMP spokesperson Dawn Roberts said members of the Osoyoos and Oliver RCMP detachments were door-to-door, working with the gang to ensure that people are leaving their properties.
“There have been physical evacuations taking place … [they’re] working closely with the Osoyoos Indian Band to make sure we are reaching the most vulnerable areas, ”said Roberts.
Following the order, several dozen properties in the area – as well as in the town of Oliver – are on evacuation alert and are being asked to prepare to leave if an order is issued.
Evacuees scramble to find accommodation
This fire is one of hundreds of forest fires currently burning in British Columbia, including more than 100 forest fires concentrated inside.
Residents being evacuated scramble to find safe housing, a task that is increasingly difficult.
Thompson-Nicola Regional District President Ken Gillis said there were no more housing in Kamloops, Merritt or Salmon Arm.
“They are absolutely full,” he said.
The Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District has encouraged evacuees to consider making arrangements to stay with family or friends due to the shortage of hotel rooms.
The weather is also proving difficult. The southern half of the province received no rain over the weekend and conditions remained hot and dry. For some areas, it’s been almost five weeks without rain.
“It’s a record season for the heat and [it’s] a little scary looking at the forecast and you don’t see any rain in sight, ”said Chief Louie.
“The fire season is far from over.
Anyone placed under an evacuation order must leave the area immediately.
Evacuation centers have been set up across the province to help anyone evacuated from a community threatened by a forest fire. To find the center closest to you, visit the Emergency Management BC website.
Evacuees are encouraged to register online with emergency support services whether or not they are accessing the services of an evacuation center.