Despite strong winds and increasing temperatures, firefighters gained ground Friday in the battle against the Smith Creek Fire outside West Kelowna, in B.C.'s central Okanagan.
The fire, which forced 2,500 people from their homes and had grown to 400 hectares has now been reduced to 250 hectares and is 20 per cent contained.
"It's still running where it wants to, and of course, one of the down factors is the wind," said Chief Wayne Schnitzler of West Kelowna Fire and Rescue.
But he said firefighters are so far managing to keep it contained within the current perimeter.
"We’re looking at where the fire could go and we’re setting up structure protection units with hose lines and sprinkler units within the structures."
B.C. Premier Christy Clark called the Smith Creek fire the number one focus of firefighting efforts in a province where more than 160 fires are burning.
Clark, the MLA for the area where more than 1,200 homes have been evacuated, estimates the provincial government is spending $5 million daily fighting forest fires.
"We spent the budget and now we're into contingencies and will be for the year. We're going to spend whatever we need to protect the people and property of this province," said Clark.
Major power line threatened
Residents who haven't been asked to leave their homes are being warned to prepare for possible power outages.
BC Hydro said the fire is burning within 100 metres of its main feeder line, which serves Peachland, Westbank, and West Kelowna.
West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater said if flames reach the power line, the communities will be completely unplugged.
"I'm very nervous about it," he said. "It's distressing too in the sense that firefighters now vitally have to protect that as well as structures and homes."
The line provides power to more than 60,000 people, and there is no backup.
BC Hydro said power would only be restored once the line is repaired, adding residents should be prepared for a lengthy outage.
"We do encourage customers to have an emergency kit ready, things like flashlights, batteries, bottled water," advised Mora Scott, BC Hydro spokeswoman.
Essential items include food for all family members, two litres of water per person per day, flashlights, batteries, cash, medications or other special needs items, first aid kit and emergency contact information.
The Wildfire Management Branch is applying fire retardant on the line's right of way in efforts to protect the power source.
More than 2,500 residents from 1,100 homes spent last night out of their homes after an evacuation order was expanded Thursday.
Another 150 homes along and near Lenz Road, including the Pinewood Villa Mobile Home Park and from 1898 to 2515 Bartley Road, were put on evacuation alert at around 8:30 p.m. PT. Residents there were told to be prepared to leave their homes at a moment's notice.
West Kelowna's mayor and council also declared a local state of emergency in the municipality of 31,000 residents.
The initial order Thursday afternoon, shortly after the fire broke out, affected only about 200 residents, but was quickly expanded to 1,500 residents in 585 homes before nearly doubling again at 7 p.m. PT. Thursday.
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The fire, which was half a hectare when first reported, expanded within hours to 30 hectares, and by Thursday night emergency officials said it had grown to 200 hectares. By Friday morning, it had grown to 250 hectares.
It was burning in the hills behind Smith Creek and Dixie Roads, threatening homes in the neighbourhood immediately below it.
The evacuation order applies to the following areas: the Smith Creek Neighbourhood, Tallus Ridge Estates, Alexandria Way and Shannon Woods and these specific locations:
- 3001-3072 Whispering Hills Drive.
- Copper Ridge Drive.
- Copper Ridge Court.
- Copper Ridge Place.
- Copper Ridge Way.
- Iron Ridge Place.
- Iron Ridge Road.
- Stone Ridge Drive.
- Bridal Hill Court.
- Bridal Hill Road.
- Rhinestone Road.
- Wildhorse Drive.
- Sageview Road.
- Saddleridge Drive.
- Sugosa Place.
- North side of Salish Road (non-agricultural properties).
- 3046-3101 Smith Creek Road.
- Summerview Place.
- Summerview Court.
- Doucette Drive.
- 3125-3190 Shetler Drive.
- Telcor Place.
- Sandberg Road.
- Twin Place.
An emergency reception centre has been set up at Mount Boucherie Secondary School, at 2751 Cameron Rd. in West Kelowna.
Residents in need of transportation can call 250-469-8490 for help.
People are also being asked to close windows and doors prior to leaving and to shut off all gas and electrical appliances, except fridges and freezers. Officials advise to gather family, put pets on leashes, and take only essential items like wallets, purses, keys and medicine.
They are also asking people to avoid the Smith Creek area so emergency crews can do their work.