An aggressive, out-of-control wildfire raging in B.C.'s southern Interior forced evacuations of 208 homes in the Rock Creek area on Thursday.
'It was like balls of fire floating in the air and falling into the forest.' – Denis Lessard, camper in area
The fire was estimated to be 750 hectares in size, but the thick, billowing black smoke made it hard to confirm, said B.C. fire information officer Fanny Bernard.
Thirty-six firefighters were at the scene of the fire, which started around 1:30 p.m. PT. Evacuations were put into effect by the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary for Rock Creek and surrounding areas, and an evacuation order is also in place for the Kettle River Recreation Area.
'Our homes could be gone'
Emil Falk and his daughter Karen Fillow were two of the evacuees who fled the area.
"The flames came pretty close that we could already see the red in it. And yeah we just had to leave," Falk said.
The pair only had time to grab some money and their pets before they left their home in their car.
"Our homes could be gone, I'm 100 per cent worried," said Fillow.
Denis Lessard, who was camping in the area, said the wildfire was terrifying to see.
"It was like balls of fire floating in the air and falling into the forest … the fire was very close. There was fire everywhere and we drove through the fire to escape," he said, visibly distraught. "It was so fast, they didn't even have time to warn us."
Adam Bartelings lives in Rock Creek and helped evacuate a number of campers from a nearby provincial park. But he wasn't able to go home before he too had to flee.
"So all my stuff, and my house, I don't know if I can go back or not, when I can go back. So I'm at my parents' right now ... I talked to some people who made it off the hill, and they told me their house burned down," he told CBC.
Officials couldn't confirm if any structures had been lost as of Thursday at 10 p.m. PT, but did say the BC Wildfire management branch had a team working solely on structure protection overnight.
David Reid was swimming at the north end of the campground when the fire started.
"I noticed the sky darkening and getting a bit red," he said. Reid has flown water bombers while fighting fires in Saskatchewan, so he said his "spidey sense got going" and he went to check on his family.
They and other campers were all successfully evacuated from the area but were forced to leave behind all their belongings.
"There's a huge black cloud. It's quite extensive. The whole western side of the valley has burned," he said. "They did say it [the fire] crossed the highway and got to the road leading up to the campground. It also jumped across the creek."
The community rallied behind the evacuees with many offering places to sleep on a Facebook page.
Roads closed, power out
The area is tinder dry, like much of B.C.'s southern Interior, and under Stage 4 drought conditions.
The fire knocked out power in Rock Creek, Westbridge and Beaverdell, Fortis B.C. tweeted.
"Power restoration will begin once area is declared safe," it said.
Highways 3 and 33 are closed in both directions and it's not clear when they will reopen. There is no detour available for motorists, according to Drive BC.
RCMP are recommending drivers not travel east of Osoyoos or south of Beaverdell unless it's absolutely necessary.
CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said the wildfire is likely fuelled by strong, gusty southerly winds that are pushing flames northward. Heavy rain is expected for Friday, but the strong winds will continue through the evening.
There is another fire burning close to the U.S. border near Bridesville, a 10-minute drive from Rock Creek.