Wind fuels wildfires of note in southern Interior, evacuation alerts and orders expand

The province hosted an emergency wildfire update today, following increased fire activity over the weekend. Travel advisories have been issued for multiple parts of the Thompson-Nicola and Okanagan regions.

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The sun rises over Mount Mackenzie and Williamson's Lake on Aug. 16, 2021. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

As predicted on Friday, Aug. 13, wind and heatwaves have accelerated multiple wildfires of note over the weekend. As more British Columbians face evacuation alerts and orders, a clear message is coming from the Interior: non-essential travel through affected areas should be avoided at all costs.

There are currently 119 evacuation alerts and orders in the province. With 32 wildfires of note currently burning, the province hosted an emergency wildfire update on Aug. 16.

More warnings against travel as a dire situation unfolds

During the update, officials emphasized that this is an unprecedented wildfire season. As demand for emergency accommodation grows, tourism remains a concern for many in the Interior.

A CP Rail train crosses the Columbia River just after 6 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 15. Smoke driven by wildfires to the west created an orange glow in the smoke-choked sky. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

“Given the conditions we are seeing in our communities and on our highways, I want to be clear: do not travel to fire-affected areas for non-essential reasons,” says Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

Currently, there are wildfire travel advisories for the following areas:

  • 100 Mile House
  • Kamloops
  • Ashcroft and Logan Lake
  • Princeton
  • Merritt
  • Lillooet
  • Lytton
  • Westwold, Kelowna and Westside
  • Okanagan Falls
  • Osoyoos and South Okanagan

Evacuation efforts further complicated by wildfire-related road closures

Over the weekend, wind gusts fanned flames across the Interior. The Lytton Creek wildfire has grown, triggering an evacuation alert for the entire city of Merritt. According to authorities, Lytton Creek fire growth has continued east of Highway 8 and the Nicola River. Observations place the fire approximately four kilometres from Highway 97C.

Closures along the Coquihalla are raising alarms for Merritt residents facing potential evacuation. On Aug. 15, a human-caused wildfire forced the closure of Highway 5 between Hope and Merritt. Although detours are available through Highway 1 and 3, the closures are further complicating evacuation efforts throughout the Thompson-Nicola region.

White Rock Lake wildfire sees dramatic growth into the Shuswap region

At 64,720 hectares, the White Rock Lake wildfire is quickly becoming the most-watched fire in the province. Authorities say that significant fire activity yesterday led to every division reassessing containment lines for breaches and creating objectives going forward. The wildfire experienced growth on all flanks, but the most significant growth was in the northeast, from Naswhito Creek across Six Mile Creek, and on the east flank down into Okanagan Indian Band and the Fintry Park and Ewing area.

This wildfire has triggered a number of evacuation alerts and orders for the Shuswap region. However, the Shuswap Emergency Program is optimistic that showers and higher humidity should help moderate fire behaviour.

Southeast Fire Centre updates several wildfires of note and announces new evacuation alerts

Although less affected than the Kamloops Fire Center, the Southeast Fire Centre is reporting growth on several wildfires of note. On Sunday, authorities updated the status of the Octopus Creek and Michaud Creek wildfires.

According to the update, strong gusty winds resulted in extreme fire behaviour and all control lines in the Arrow Lake Complex (Michaud Creek and Octopus Creek fires) were tested. On the north side of the Octopus Creek fire, firefighters and aircraft were able to hold the fire on the south side of the Hart Creek drainage, protecting the community of Fauquier.

On the south side of the Michaud Creek fire, growth has been reported near the Faith Creek drainage west of Renata. Firefighters, aircraft and heavy equipment will be establishing new control lines to help protect the community of Renata.

Additionally, the newly discovered Plumbob Mountain fire has put 254 properties on evacuation alert along the western banks of Koocanusa Lake. Located between Cranbrook and Fernie, the fire was discovered on Aug. 16 and has already grown to 286 hectares.

More long-term care facilities face precautionary evacuation

Since Friday, Interior Health has relocated long-term care residents from ten facilities threatened by wildfires. The affected homes are in Armstrong, Lillooet, 100 Mile House, Merritt and West Kelowna.

Families are being contacted directly with details of their loved one’s location, contact information and ongoing care.

“I want to thank our health authority partners throughout the province and each and every person across the Interior region for their commitment and support during these challenging times,” says Susan Brown, Interior Health president and CEO.

“We are all in this together. Our collective focus is the safety of care home residents, hospital patients and community health clients entrusted to our care.”