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Crews battle large wildfire near Peachland, evacuation order issued

Last Updated Sep 4, 2017 at 8:35 am PST

The Finlay Creek fire near Peachland, September 3, 2017. (Photo courtesy Denise, via @SUPokanagan on Twitter)
Summary

There are 163 wildfires burning province-wide

A new fire southwest of Peachland has forced the evacuation of at least 55 properties

PEACHLAND (NEWS 1130) – A fire burning southwest of Peachland, in the Okanagan, is being fanned by strong westerly winds and has now grown to at least 1,000 hectares in size.

The fire near Finlay Creek, about seven and a half kilometres from Peachland, was first reported on Saturday afternoon.

“The fire did remain quite active overnight which was quite challenging for crews,” says Fire Information officer Rachel Witt with the BC Wildfire Service‘s Kamloops Fire Centre.

Last night the fire was estimated to be 100 hectares in size, but it has grown ten-fold.

There is now an evacuation order for 55 properties in the Summerland region. There are evacuation alerts for other nearby properties.

“Yesterday we did see a shift in winds, we did see some westerly winds down in that area, that at times were up to 40 kmph. And wind can be quite challenging and can also increase fire behaviour. So at times we were seeing quite a bit of open flame,” says Witt. “We were hoping the wind would calm down overnight but it seems the fire remains very active.”

The steep terrain of the area is also challenging crews fighting that fire.

There are more than 20 personnel and three helicopters fighting the blaze, and additional heavy equipment has already been brought in.

Witt says people on Okanagan Lake should be aware of crews working and stay out of the way, especially if they see skimmers approaching.

“If you do see our aircraft coming to get water to drop it on the fire, move to the shores, get out of the way,” she says. “It’s really important that they can be as efficient and as safe as possible.”

 

No break in the weather in sight 

There are 163 wildfires burning province-wide, and the BC Wildfire Service says the current level of activity is expected to persist, with forecast weather calling for high temperatures and dry conditions.

“We’re likely going to be seeing some high temperature records broken over the next few days based on the forecast that we’re looking at right now,” says Chief Fire Information Officer Kevin Skrepnek. “So, definitely no end to fire season in sight and unfortunately for the immediate future not looking at any potential rain either.”

Despite an unusually wet spring, he says the wildfire season can see a relatively short-term shift in weather that can have a big ramification in terms of fire behaviour and activity.

“In some areas that level of rain meant that a lot of grass and fuels grew up quite a bit, and then once the summer came and dried everything out it meant there was more fuel available to burn,” Skrepnek explains, however, that that was a fairly localized situation.

The BC Wildfire Service is estimating it will be losing around 300 to 400 crew members as seasonal contracts are up and many head back to school. It’s an issue he says the service has been looking at since July, and crews have reached out to the BC Forest Industry and out-of-province bodies for additional help.

“We’ve done everything that we can to address that gap. Like I said it’s going to be a challenge, but we’ve done what we can to make sure we’re filling that vacuum and still have capacity not only to manage the fires that we’ve got on the landscape right now, but of course any additional new fires that start.”

Crews battle three new fires near Cranbrook

There are a number of major fires across the province, including one near St. Mary’s River (398 hectares), the Lamb Creek fire near Moyie Lake (400 hectares), and the Linklater Creek wildfire which originated in the US, estimated at a size of 450 hectares within Canada.

“We stay in real constant communication [with US crews] if there’s fires that are either burning over the border or within close proximity to it,” explains Skrepnek. “Generally just to keep it easy, we do tackle the fires separately on each side of the border in terms of where the resources are coming from and the specific arae, but we’re working in constant contact with them and close concert.”

He adds this is the case with a number of fires that burn cross-border, like the Diamond Creek fire in the Ashnola Valley area.

The BC Wildfire Service says that blaze is covering an estimated area of close to 3,000 hectares within Canada.

An area restriction for Crown lands near the fire, near Cathedral Park west of Osoyoos, is in effect but the wildfire service says that fire is still far from communities and only one lodge has been evacuated.

American officials have also implemented a burn ban for the northwest part of Washington state because of the extreme fire danger.

Number of aggressive fires in Rockies region unprecedented

The province is reminding people that access to BC’s Rocky Mountain Natural Resource District along the Alberta-border is closed due to the extreme fire danger rating.

With hot and dry conditions and also winds in the forecast, officials say the number of aggressive fires in the region is unprecedented.

Meanwhile, a wildfire near Cranbrook is now about the size of Stanley Park. The flames are 14 kilometres away from the city. The Regional District of East Kootenay has implemented a full evacuation order for the Moyie Lake area.

New evacuation orders were issued yesterday for about 200 properties in the area. That’s in addition to 30 homes in First Nations territory that were already evacuated.

In the Cariboo region, restrictions are also in place around some of the largest fires the province has seen this season.