British Columbia

Growing wildfire near Penticton sparks evacuation alerts by First Nation and regional district

An out of control wildfire burning near Penticton, B.C. grew to 2.3 square kilometres on Saturday, sparking an evacuation alert by Penticton Indian Band.

The Hedges Butte fire near Penticton, B.C. grew to 2.3 square kilometres on Saturday

The Hedges Butte wildfire, first reported on Sept. 3, 2021, is seen from the Penticton Indian Band. Dozens of firefighters and helicopters battled the 'out of control' blaze which grew nearly five times in size within a day to 2.3 square kilometres. (Chief Greg Gabriel/Penticton Indian Band)

An out of control wildfire burning near Penticton, B.C. grew to 2.3 square kilometres on Saturday, sparking an evacuation alert by Penticton Indian Band.

The Hedges Butte fire, which was first reported on Friday at just 0.5 square kilometres, had grown nearly five times in size within a day.

As a result, the First Nation and regional district both alerted residents of 62 properties to be ready to leave on short notice.

The fire is roughly 12 km southwest of Penticton, according to B.C.'s Wildfire Service. Its cause it still under investigation, the agency said, as dozens of firefighters and six helicopters attempted to control the blaze, as well as air tankers.

"The extreme drought condition of the forest coupled with increased winds resulted in rapid growth of the fire through the day," the service said.

The Hedges Butte wildfire, first reported on Sept. 3, 2021, is seen from the Penticton Indian Band. Dozens of firefighters and helicopters battled the 'out of control' blaze which grew nearly five times in size within a day to 2.3 square kilometres. (Chief Greg Gabriel/Penticton Indian Band)

Chief Greg Gabriel suspects the new blaze might have been human-caused because of where it was first seen near the boundary of the reserve.

"It started right by the roadside, and climbed up the bank and got away once it got on top of the embankment," he said. "It got very large in a very short period of time."

He said he issued the evacuation alert to roughly 15 homes after discussing the matter with the wildfire service.

"We're hoping we'll have another good day of making progress on the fire ... but the smoke is very visible from our community," he said. "No doubt it generates a lot of anxiety and panic in our community.

"We're not quite over the Skaha Creek fire which is actually on the reserve... and now this new fire is causing more anxiety and stress to a lot of people in our community."

On Friday, the larger Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen had issued an evacuation alert for 47 properties southwest of the community of Farleigh Lake.

B.C. saw 17 new fires in the last week. The province says 212 wildfires are currently burning across B.C. The majority of active fires are in the Kamloops region, which includes the Okanagan.

This week saw the Southeast region increase its share of the province's fires, hosting 26 per cent of B.C.'s active fires, just behind Kamloops' nearly 28 per cent of wildfires.

Nearly three-quarters of this year's fires have been blamed on lightning, while 10 per cent were caused by people, the wildfire service said.

A total of 8,648 square kilometres have burned so far this year — 150 per cent more than the past decade's wildfire season average.

Meanwhile, the number of evacuation orders continues to fall due to improving weather conditions. As of Friday evening, there were 12 evacuation orders covering 1,182 properties, according to Emergency Management B.C.

Evacuation alerts mean residents must be ready to leave their homes at a moment's notice. An evacuation order means a resident should leave immediately.

Air quality remained unhealthy in several B.C. communities as a result of the wildfires.

The worst air in the province Saturday was in Lumby, B.C., where air quality exceeded the World Health Organization's safe limit of fine particles by seven times around midday. The community lies just east of Vernon, which itself saw air quality nearly five times worse than the WHO guideline. 


Anyone placed under an evacuation order should leave the area immediately. 

Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire. To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David P. Ball

@davidpball

David P. Ball is a CBC News reporter in Vancouver. Send story tips or ideas to david.ball@cbc.ca, or find him on Twitter @davidpball.

With files from Janella Hamilton and Akshay Kulkarni

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