Canada–– Residents of B.C.’s beautiful Okanagan Valley are used to wildfires springing up suddenly in the tinder-dry forests surrounding them, but last weekend’s blaze threatening Peachland took off with surprising speed.
More than 1,500 people remained out of their homes Monday as fire crews fought to bring the 200-hectare blaze under control.
A sprinkling of rain and, more importantly, a drop in the wind helped crews increase the fire’s containment to about 50 per cent but the evacuation order remained in effect Monday morning.
Fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek told The Canadian Press it was unclear if the fire had grown overnight but it was thought to remain at about two square kilometres.
The fire was first reported mid-afternoon Sunday but high winds quickly fanned it into a major blaze. Residents of the town of 5,200 south of Kelowna on Okanagan Lake had only minutes to flee.
“I was out during the day and when I got home my neighbour called and asked if I had heard about the evacuation alert,” Peachland school board trustee Moyra Baxter told Kelowna Capital News. “The next thing I knew the police were in the street telling us to leave.”
Joe Zucchero only had time to grab his dog and his iPad.
“I saw the flames as I drove down Trapanier Bench Road,” he said.
Charles Kilpatrick said he saw two houses on fire has he drove away.
Authorities couldn’t estimate the damage yet but Peachland Mayor Keith Fielding said he’d heard four homes were set ablaze.
“I don’t know to what extent the damage is,” he told CP. “I’m very concerned about that.”
Fielding was giving out prizes at a fall fair Sunday when word came his own street was being evacuated. He rushed home to help his wife and disabled adult daughter flee their home.
“Obviously it’s a very worrying time for everybody and (Monday) we’re hoping to have good news about the containment,” he told CP.
Authorities reacted quickly to the fire, whose cause remained unknown Monday, which was attacked by crews on the ground, several helicopters and a four-engined water bomber.
The speed and ferocity of the fire brought back memories of the September 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire, another late season blaze that swept into the city of Kelowna. More than 27,000 people were forced to flee and an entire city subdivision was engulfed in 10-storey-high flames. More than 200 homes were destroyed.
The fire, and another that razed a village near Kamloops, B.C., that summer prompted a public inquiry into how best to minimize the impact of so-called interface wild fires, which threaten residential areas. Since then, the population of the Okanagan Valley has only grown and new neighbourhoods eat into forest land.