After a terrible evening of out-of-control wildfire growth in the BC Interior, forcing hundreds more people from their homes, the B.C. government has told tourists to stay away.
Strong winds overnight caused the White Rock Lake fire to grow rapidly overnight, destroying upwards of 60 homes in the Ewings Landing and Killiney Beach areas, while the Mount Law fire was sparked in the afternoon and quickly forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes in the Glenrosa area.
As a result, Central Okanagan Emergency Operations EOC director Brian Reardon said Monday that “Kelowna is at capacity with respect to hotel rooms.”
During a press conference Monday afternoon, Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth reiterated the need for tourists to stay away.
“I want to be clear, do not travel to fire-affected areas for non-essential reasons and always check DriveBC to see any impacts to routes or highways,” Farnworth said.
“We want to ensure that people in fire-affected communities will be able to evacuate if necessary and access the supports they need.”
“If you are planning to travel to those areas, it's time to change your plans. Instead, visit an area of the province where your presence won't strain local resources and will have a positive impact.”
Last week, Farnworth told tourists to avoid travelling to a specific area of the North Okanagan through the weekend, and the government provided a map of the area to avoid.
But Monday, Farnworth kept his directive more general, telling tourists to avoid “fire-affected areas,” but noted he's “more than prepared to put out a map of fire-affected areas.” It's not clear if the province will follow up with more specific directions of where not to travel.
Meanwhile, West Kelowna mayor Gord Milsom said Monday he would not discourage tourists from travelling to the region, but added "we are asking Okanagan tourists to make every effort that they can to help those who need hotel rooms locally.”
“If they can just be considerate of those individuals who have been evacuated locally, and if they can maybe just think of other options like staying with family," he said. "But it all depends on their particular situations and arrangements."
Milsom noted that the municipalities of Kelowna and West Kelowna are working to free up lodging for evacuees at places like UBCO and local schools.
– with a file from Colin Dacre