By Darryl Greer in West Kelowna
Residents of West Kelowna and Kelowna have endured another harrowing night surrounded by wildfires that form the epicentre of a battle against hundreds of blazes across British Columbia.
The provincewide firefight has triggered a provincial state of emergency, with about 15,000 people evacuated from their homes across B.C., and a further 20,000 under evacuation alerts.
A series of new evacuation orders were issued by the City of Kelowna, Kelowna and the Westbank First Nation Friday night, in addition to alerts warning residents to be ready to leave at short notice.
Fires deemed out of control are now burning on both sides of Lake Okanagan, including the devastating McDougall Creek fire that the BC Wildfire Service says covers 105 square kilometres.
But conditions overnight were calmer than during Thursday and Friday’s desperate battle against flames that consumed numerous homes and other properties, including the Lake Okanagan Resort.
At least one evacuation order for part of the Westbank First Nation was also downgraded to an alert around midnight.
Saturday dawned cool and calm in Kelowna, with a blue sky visible through the smoky haze.
Chris Durkee and Danielle Mogdam and their five kids just returned to their Kelowna home from a trip to Alberta and thought they were safe from the fire across the lake, only to be awoken by a neighbour banging on their door to tell them a mountainside visible from their yard was on fire.
Durkee, who has lived in Kelowna for 30 years, says they aren’t panicking just yet but they have a trailer packed and ready to go should the flames get too close.
Elsewhere, a series of evacuation orders were issued for residents of the southern Interior Shuswap area Friday night, threatened by the Lower East Adams Lake wildfire and the Bush Creek fire.
The Columbia Shuswap Regional District and area Indigenous nations issued evacuation orders for the Scotch Creek, Lee Creek, Celista, Magna Bay and Little River areas.
The Scotch Creek and Takana Bay bridges were closed and Scotch Creek residents were told to evacuate by boat.
The wildfire service says the lightning-triggered Lower East Adams fire on the east side of the lake has grown to 100 square kilometres, while the Bush Creek Fire to the west is now 33 square kilometres.
The Columbia Shuswap Regional District says Friday was an “unprecedented and profoundly challenging day” as it fought the most devastating fires in its history.
A fire in the Lytton area, meanwhile, has forced the evacuations of numerous properties, including the closure of the Trans-Canada Highway, while the Downton Creek fire in the Gun Lake area near Lillooet destroyed homes.
There are about 380 wildfires burning across the province, including 158 that are out of control and 16 wildfires of note that are highly visible or a threat to people or properties.
B.C. Premier David Eby announced the province’s state of emergency in response to what he called an “unprecedented” fire threat that forced evacuation orders for 10,000 more people in the space of one hour late Friday.
He said the situation “evolved and deteriorated” rapidly.
Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma said the measure would allow the province to compel co-operation in the fire fight, and could be used to force people not to travel to fire zones.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2023.
Banner image via The Canadian Press