'I don't think we're out of this yet': Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen gets update on volatile wildfire situation

Some evac alerts lifted

UPDATE: 4:05 p.m.

All evacuation alerts in Electoral Area D for the Thomas Creek wildfire have been rescinded.

Find more information here.

ORIGINAL: 11:45 a.m.

The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen board received an update on the four concerning interface fires burning in the region at its Thursday morning board meeting, and a warning that the area is "rife" for more wildfire activity.

"It's very dry, tinder dry, we've had no rain. We're just rife for a wildfire and additional wildfires, I don't think we're out of this yet," CAO Bill Newell said.

Newell walked the board through the timeline, starting with the Thomas Creek wildfire near Okanagan Falls, which has been burning since July 11.

"It was close to people and infrastructure," Newell said. "We activated our emergency response plan ... and we haven't stopped since."

That fire is currently listed at 10,250 hectares and out of control, and is believed to have been caused by non-natural causes. Ten properties remain on evacuation order, and 73 are on evacuation alert.

No structures have been lost.

"It grew exponentially within a few hours [of sparking]," Newell said, adding crews have been working diligently to establish fire lines.

"There is some concern that if the wind keeps blowing it south it may merge with the Nk'Mip fire," Newell said, referencing another large blaze between Oliver and Osoyoos which has been burning since July 19.

That fire led to the RDOS declaring a state of local emergency, as it grew toward the Shrike Hill area of Area C in rural Oliver. Three structures were lost to the blaze.

It is currently estimated at 16,000 hectares in size, and 215 properties are under evacuation order, with a further 931 on evacuation alert.

"We've started to reduce the number on order," Newell said.

"One of the issues is BC Wildfire doesn't like residents around when they are establishing ground lines, or fire perimeter or doing back burning. So they are cautious when they are going to release a perimeter ... we believe that shortly they are going to have that fire moved out of the area and we're going to be able to get people back into the area [in Area A near Osoyoos]."

Firefighters from Mexico have been assisting with the fight, along with firefighters from other provinces and Parks Canada.

"They're steering it out more into the Baldy area, so more east," Newell said. "Depending on winds, it's still volatile."

Newell also addressed the Garrison Lake wildfire, which sparked July 23, 33 kilometres south of Princeton. It is currently listed at 8,400 hectares in size.

The RDOS evacuated the Eastgate area, 158 properties, and two properties remain on alert.

"In order for farmers to get support from the province, they have to be on alert," Newell said. "We are in the process now of helping those farmers identify where their cattle are, and whether they have to move them."

One of those properties on alert is Kennedy Lake, which is all one property, but around 500-700 people.

"We are keeping track of the fire progress on their behalf," Newell said.

Another wildfire affecting RDOS residents is Brenda Creek, 40 kilometres west of Peachland in Area H. The fire has affected properties in the RDOS as well as the Central Okanagan Regional District and Thompson Nicola Regional District, resulting in collaborative work between the three government agencies.

Only three properties remain on order in that area, with 41 properties downgraded to an alert Thursday morning.

Emergency Support Services have supported 1,756 people to date, split between the Oliver reception centre, Penticton reception centre and RDCO reception centre.

ESS is supporting 166 displaced people via billeting, and 708 via hotel rooms. ESS spending to date on food, incidentals and lodging for evacuees has been $308,720.

Search and rescue volunteers from around the region have put in 1,395 hours to date, and ESS volunteers have put in 718 hours, since the start of the region's wildfires on July 11.

Additionally, 133 animals have been supported by the Animal Lifeline Emergency Response Team, including nine dogs, 16 horses, 58 pigs, three peacocks and one donkey.

"It's a tremendous number of hours that these groups put in," Newell said.

To date, the RDOS Emergency Operations Centre has had $598,400 in expense authorization forms approved and they are awaiting approval for $145,000 more.

The funding goes toward security of properties that are evacuated, the ESS reception, overtime wages for government employees and relocation of livestock.

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