Wildfires force evacuations in B.C., but forecast rains could spell relief

Firefighting resources are being juggled and reassigned as British Columbia's Wildfire Management Branch handles several blazes, including one which has forced about 2,500 people from their homes.

More than 140 wildfires burn across B.C. and thousands have been ordered from their homes

A helicopter drops fire retardant on the Smith Creek fire (CBC)

Firefighting resources are being juggled and reassigned as British Columbia's Wildfire Management Branch handles several blazes, including one which has forced about 2,500 people from their homes.

The Smith Creek fire near West Kelowna raged to an estimated four square kilometres Friday, a day after an evacuation order was issued for the nearly 1,100 homes in its potential path.

However, by Friday, firefighters announced it had managed to contain about 20 per cent of the fire and reduce it to 2.5 square kilometres in size or 2500 hectares.

Smith Creek possibly human caused

Kayla Pepper of the Wildfire Management Branch said flames could be seen on a hillside covered by grass and trees. She said the cause of the fire, that at one point  was 20 per cent contained Friday, but is no longer, is not known. 

However, there was no lightning in the area at the time the fire started.

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      Operations centre spokesman Bruce Smith said 12 aircraft, 11 ground crew from the province's Wildfire Management Branch, as well as firefighters from around the region were battling the flames.

      An emergency reception centre was also moved from a local church to a secondary school, he said.

      Dawn Sutton said she was forced to leave her home with her dog, insurance papers and some personal belongings. She went to a friend's house and is worried about losing her own home.

      "Of course I'm worried. Am I going to have a house?" she said.

      "It's scary, but, you know, I mean lives are more important," she said. "A house can be rebuilt. That's the way I look at it."

      Main electrical line threatened

      Area residents, including the Westbank First Nation and those in Peachland and West Kelowna are being advised to prepare themselves to be self-sustaining for several days.

      An extended loss of electricity means residents would need to have enough water for each member of their family, the regional district said.

      Three aircraft simultaneously bomb the Smith Creek fire Friday. The province has devoted a lot of resources to fighting this fire. (CBC)

      The fire is burning within 100 metres of the main feeder power line that services Peachland, Westbank and West Kelowna, the district said. But information officer Tracy Wynnyk of the Wildfire Management Branch said crews have managed to keep the blaze away.

      "Overnight, with the efforts of the firefighters and the equipment, they've established some good guards and the fire actually has been moving way from the power lines, so at this point in time, things are looking fairly positive there," she said in a phone interview.

      The forecast for the Kelowna area calls for sun, clouds and southwest winds gusting up to 40 kilometres an hour.

      "What I understand is we're going to continue with temperatures in the upper 20s into low 30s, depending on where you're at, and of course high temperatures and the possibility of winds is a bit of a concern," Wynnyk said.

      Just hours after that evacuation order was posted, some residents of a small community in the Fraser Canyon, 260 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, were also being told to get out.

      The Botanie Road fire is threatening an area just north of Lytton, on the north side of the Thompson River. An evacuation order was issued for residences along Botanie Creek Road from the junction with Highway 12 to Botanie Lake.

      An aggressive wildfire burning north of Lytton consumed a barn Friday. About 45 residents have been told to leave their homes. (Denise O'Connor/Twitter)

      An evacuation alert was also issued Friday for other properties along the Highway 12 corridor.

      The evacuations and alerts come as more than 1,000 relieved residents of Hudson's Hope returned to their northeastern B.C. homes Thursday afternoon as heavy rain slowed the advance of the huge Mount McAllister blaze southwest of that town.

      The Wildfire Management Branch says more than 160 fires are burning across the province, with 17 of them considered to be major fires, but officials are hopeful that cooler temperatures and rain this weekend will give fire crews a breather.

      With files from CBC News