British Columbia

With winds in forecast, residents near Penticton, B.C., wildfire urged to prepare for evacuation

Though dozens of B.C. wildfires continue to burn, one evacuation alert has been lifted in the southeast of the province.

Christie Mountain fire, southeast of Penticton, now estimated at 2,000 hectares in size

A man uses a flashlight to check for embers on his property near the Christie Mountain wildfire burning in B.C.'s Okanagan region south of Penticton. (Drouin Photography)

Officials say people in Penticton and nearby areas, where a growing wildfire is burning and strong winds are forecast, need to be ready in case an evacuation order is given.

The Christie Mountain wildfire fire has grown to an estimated 2,000 hectares — five times the size of Vancouver's Stanley Park.

The fire has already destroyed one home in Heritage Hills while 319 properties in the community have been evacuated. Residents of another 3,785 properties in southeastern Penticton and Upper Carmi have spent the last two days on evacuation alert.

Most of the fire's growth so far has been away from structures, but that is expected to change on Friday, with high winds blowing toward Penticton in the forecast. That's a cause for concern, a according to Wildfire Service incident commander Mitch Pence.

"If we get some strong winds, our [containment] lines will be challenged, for sure," Pence said. 

CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said a weather system is expected to move through the Okanagan on Friday that will bring southerly winds of 20 to 40 km/h, gusting up to 70 km/h.

In preparation, the wildfire service says it is stationing structural protection teams throughout the affected neighbourhoods Friday morning to assess the risks and prepare for the fire to spread. 

(CBC)

'Now is the time to get prepared'

Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki urged residents of the evacuation alert area to pre-register online with B.C.'s evacuee registration and assistance website to help officials plan their response. He said 700 people have already pre-registered.

Erick Thompson, a spokesperson for the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen's emergency operations centre, said residents of the evacuation alert area need to be ready to leave quickly.

"You may get very little notice if fire conditions change," Thompson said. "It could be a tactical evacuation if things were going in a different direction than we hope they were."

Regional district chair Karla Kozakevich said residents can find emergency planning info on the district's website.

"If you don't have a plan, now is the time to get prepared," Kozakevich said.

Deputy provincial health officer Dr. Réka Gustafson, speaking Thursday afternoon, said the COVID-19 pandemic has brought "added complexity" to the wildfire situation.

"Public health is working with emergency management to support you at these difficult times," Gustafson said. 

Gustafson said that work has included making sure hand hygiene and physical distancing are priorities at evacuation centres.

She said there have been no reports of self-isolating people among the evacuees in Penticton.

'Some pretty nasty terrain'

Fire information officer Nicole Bonnet said 100 firefighters are working on the Christie Mountain fire supported by aircraft, structure protection crews and the Penticton Fire Department.

She said poor visibility has hampered air operations and the steep, rocky terrain has worked against ground crews.

"It is burning in some pretty nasty terrain," Bonnet said. "I believe the area is fairly well known for rock climbing which kind of gives everybody a decent idea how steep it is out there."

Solomon Mountain fire held, Canal Flats homes on evacuation order

An evacuation alert has been lifted in southeastern B.C. for 44 homes near the community of Beaverdell in the Kootenay-Boundary region. Those homes were threatened by the 18-hectare Solomon Mountain wildfire, which the wildfire service says is now under control.

Ten properties near the village of Canal Flats, in the East Kootenay region, were given evacuation orders Wednesday night due to the Doctor Creek fire.

The fire is currently estimated to be 3,000 hectares in size. Forty firefighters were on the scene Thursday night, supported by aircraft and three pieces of heavy equipment.  

The wildfire service said that of the 540 fires recorded since April in B.C., more than one quarter have been sparked in the last week.

The service's website shows many of the 151 fires that have flared in the last seven days were caused by lightning, and almost three dozen are listed as out of control.

An air quality statement warning of smoky skies over the south Okanagan, Boundary and Whistler regions has been issued by Environment Canada.

It advises asthma sufferers or anyone with a chronic condition to stop or reduce activity levels if wildfire smoke makes breathing uncomfortable.

With files from Cathy Kearney and the Canadian Press

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now