An aggressive wildfire that forced hundreds of people to flee from Rock Creek in B.C.'s southern Interior and has destroyed at least one home appears to have been human caused.
Residents confirmed that at least one home and several vehicles and trailers at the Rock Creek Riverside Campsite were destroyed in the fire.
There are unconfirmed reports that as many as five homes nearby may have been destroyed and some livestock were killed, but no official numbers have been released.
- Livestock and pets set free to fend for themselves as Rock Creek wildfire swept in
- New evacuation order triggered by second B.C. wildfire near Osoyoos
Fire officials say the fire is now estimated to cover 25 square kilometres, up from an estimated 7.5 square kilometres on Thursday evening.
Fire appears human caused
On Friday morning, the fire continued to burn out of control, particularly on its southern flank, and heavy smoke blanketed the region, blocking out views of the mountaintops.
'Tree tops were bursting like bombs and falling down on the top of our house.' —Evacuee Rob Hardy
The Rock Creek fire is still completely uncontained.
There are currently about 168 fires burning across the province, including the Rock Creek fire, said provincial fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek.
The fire appears to be human caused, he said, adding it does not seem to have started in the local campground which was also evacuated on Thursday.
"One human-caused fire is one too many, especially given the level of activity we're seeing right now and the level of new naturally occurring fires, particularly in southern B.C.," he said.
"We haven't had a lot of lightning in that area. We have to operate under the assumption that it was human caused."
The Rock Creek fire did not appear to be growing toward the north where most of the area's homes and structures are located.
But there is a severe weather warning for the region, with rain, strong winds and severe thunderstorms already moving through, which could make fighting the fires more difficult, and even spark new fires.
About 76 firefighters and six helicopters and two air tankers have been assigned to fight the fire, and are focusing on protecting homes and other structures in the region, said Bernard.
Officials haven't confirmed what kind or how many structures have been lost, because smoke continues to billow from the Rock Creek fire, about 50 kilometres east of Osoyoos. But there are reports quoting local RCMP who say several vehicles and RVs at the Kettle River provincial campground have burned, along with some nearby homes.
"It goes back to public safety. There is a very active fire and in terms of getting in and doing the full assessment, they have to keep that in mind as well," said B.C. Forests Minister Steve Thomson.
'Tree tops bursting like bombs'
The Rock Creek wildfire was first spotted around 1:30 p.m. PT Thursday and grew rapidly in the extremely dry conditions, triggering the evacuation of one campground and about 240 residences.
Rob and Mary Hardy were chased from their home in Westbridge, north of Rock Creek, when the flames began to encroach on Thursday afternoon.
"Literally the tree tops were bursting like bombs and falling down on the top of our house," Rob Hardy told media outside of the Salvation Army Kelowna Community Church, which has been turned into an evacuation centre.
"The wind was just carrying [the embers] for miles and miles. I've never experienced, I've never seen anything like it."
The Hardys made the difficult decision to let their horses run into the wild in the hope they could save themselves, but are concerned they may not see them again.
Rob Hardy said he opened the gate and let the animals go down the Trans Canada Trail.
"Oddly enough, they actually went towards the fire at first, which I think, they were just very confused. Once we got them turned around, they just took off for the river. That's the last I saw of them."
Campers fled Rock Creek fire
Among the evacuees were about 200 campers who fled the Kettle River Provincial Park Thursday evening.
At one point, the fire jumped a highway and a creek, forcing campers to leave their vehicles, trailers and RVs behind as they fled. Many were eventually taken by bus to evacuation centres set up at several local community centres.
- Rock Creek fire updates from B.C. Wildfire Management Branch
- Evacuation order information from Kootenay-Boundary Regional District
The community has rallied behind the evacuees, with many on a Facebook page offering places to sleep.
The fire knocked out power in Rock Creek, Christian Valley, Bridesville, Westbridge and Beaverdell, according to a tweet from Fortis BC.
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 absolutely necessary.
2nd fire triggers evacuation near Osoyoos
A second fire in the area that crossed the U.S. border from Washington state on Thursday near Osoyoos, B.C. has also triggered an evacuation order.
That fire, which is about 150 hectares in size, was driven northeast by strong winds, but so far no homes have been reported lost.
Crews from Washington and B.C. are battling the fire, which remains uncontrolled. Highway 3 is closed east of Osoyoos near the Anarchist Mountain rest area.