Border-crossing wildfire burning dangerously close to Osoyoos, B.C.
732 properties, including some in Osoyoos, are under evacuation order
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen and the Town of Osoyoos issued an evacuation order Saturday evening for 732 properties in and around Osoyoos in response to an out-of-control wildfire that crossed over the U.S.-Canada border.
The Eagle Bluff fire is burning about four kilometres from the town of Osoyoos in B.C.'s southern Interior and is considered to be a wildfire of note. The town, which is 400 km east of Vancouver, has just over 5,000 residents.
Previous wildfire updates referred to the fire on the Canadian side of the border as the Lone Pine Creek fire, but both sides of the wildfire are now being referred to as the Eagle Bluff fire.
The evacuation order covers the area north of the border to the intersection of Highway 97 and Highway 3, as well as west and north along Highway 3.
On Sunday morning, more than 2,000 properties in west Osoyoos were placed on evacuation alert, as was a stretch of land on the west side of Osoyoos Lake extending northwards along Highway 97.
An evacuation alert means residents should prepare to evacuate their homes, possibly with little to no notice. An evacuation order means residents should leave immediately.
A growing plume of smoke and flames were visible from Osoyoos Lake on Saturday afternoon, and smoke has blanketed the skies since Saturday evening.
B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS) says the Eagle Bluff fire is now burning over an area of 8.8 square kilometres on the Canadian side, while the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (WSDNR) estimates the U.S. portion is more than 40 square kilometres in size as of Sunday afternoon, with significant growth observed overnight.
BCWS says they are in close communication with WSDNR fire services to collaborate on fires close to the U.S.-Canada border.
High winds drove the fire's growth over the border Saturday afternoon, which slowed as winds changed overnight, said Shaelee Stearns, a BCWS fire information officer.
"Yesterday evening, we were seeing ... increased and aggressive activity for the fire behaviour," said Stearns on Sunday morning.
There are 50 personnel battling the fire, plus 11 pieces of heavy equipment and air support, said Stearns.
The around-the-clock response is focused on the east flank of the fire and a structure protection crew is working in the Kilpoola area, she added.
"We still have quite a fair amount of resources assigned to the incident," said Stearns.
The blaze came right up to Nathan Ondrus's backyard, which skirts Crown land and sits by the Osoyoos golf course.
"The fire was right on the back of the property. It was burning right on the edge of my property," he said. "The firefighters did an awesome job. They did some back burns and pushed it away from the houses."
Ondrus, who was under evacuation order, sent his family away but chose to stay behind to keep an eye on his property and help firefighters.
It was a scary night, he said.
"But I'm just looking here. Everything's looking black up there [by the mountains], but all the houses are safe and the fire is moving away from the dense areas of Osoyoos."
The Town of Osoyoos issued a statement Saturday evening requesting residents reduce water usage to ensure the town's reservoirs are available for the fire department.
Stearns urged residents on both sides of the border to avoid boating on Osoyoos Lake in order to allow air tankers to gather needed water to fight the fire.
"This hinders our response," said Stearns. "That has a domino effect and could also affect crews on the ground when there's boats in the water."
A state of local emergency was declared for the town late on Saturday night and is set to last until Aug. 5, unless it is extended. Evacuees are being told to head to the community centre in nearby Oliver, B.C., located at 6359 Park Drive.
More than 132 evacuated households had registered at the centre as of 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon, according to RDOS spokesperson Erick Thompson.
Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff expressed her sympathies to those evacuated and on alert, and thanked the wildfire crews and locals offering to help evacuees and those battling the fire.
"It's wonderful to know we have that support in our community."
With files from Arrthy Thayaparan and the Canadian Press