Evac alert area grows

Colton Davies

UPDATE 8:35 p.m.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen is expanding the evacuation alert related to the Snowy Mountain wildfire to advise ranchers to move cattle out of the area.

The revised alert includes all Crown land and the Snowy Mountain Protected Area west of Highway 3 to the border with the United States.

“The purpose of this alert is to prepare all land users in Crown land west of Cawston to evacuate,” the alert says. “This includes ranchers who are advised to bring cattle out of the area as possible. The Snowy Mountain wildfire has the potential to move south limiting the ability to get animals out.”

ALERT Canada assists with animals, including pets and livestock, in the event of an emergency. The Desert Park Race Track in Osoyoos can stable horses and livestock as needed. For information on evacuating pets or livestock, ALERT can be contacted at 250-809-7152.

The expanded alert does not impact any additional properties. However, 869 properties in Keremeos, Cawston and the surrounding area remain on alert.

UPDATE: 4:15 p.m.

The Snowy Mountain wildfire is now being mapped at 6,594 hectares by the BC Wildfire Service.

Information officer Claire Allen says the new figure, about 450 hectares larger than Wednesday morning's size estimate, is a result of better mapping.

"Today, crews are working to establish helipads on the ridge along control lines and will prepare for mop-up in secured areas," the BCWS said online.

Allen adds weather conditions have been more favourable today at the fire, with cooler temperatures in the high alpine areas.

Nineteen firefighters, three helicopters and four pieces of heavy equipment continue to fight the fire on steep terrain. Structural protection units have also been deployed to be used if needed.

UPDATE: 2:05 p.m.

Despite the boundaries of the Snowy Mountain wildfire edging closer to communities, officials say there's no need for concern among residents at this point.

Smoke and flame is very visible from parts of Similkameen along the Crowsnest Highway, but the 6,155-hectares blaze is still "miles away" from the nearest properties, Cawston director George Bush says.

"I don't have any concern, I have complete faith in the (BC Wildfire Service) to stop any fire coming across the river," Bush says, noting he hasn't heard any concerns from locals either. "With all the resources I don't think we'll have any problem at all."

As of Wednesday morning, 19 provincial firefighters, three helicopters and four pieces of heavy equipment were battling the blaze, which for the most part is burning in remote forest. 

The Keremeos Fire Department has also been asked by the BCWS to have a night crew do patrols, fire chief Jordy Bosscha says.

"So we're driving around Keremeos looking for any potential issues, any hot spots or little flare ups... and reporting back to them."

The fire doubled in size from Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning, which led to more than 800 evacuation alerts for properties from Cawston to Keremeos, but Bosscha says "at this time it's nothing to be panicking about... there is something in the area, and just be prepared."

The main reason for the alerts being issued was the potential for burning embers to spark fires in the valley bottom, according to the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

The Lower Similkameen Indian Band also put an evacuation alert in place for five properties late on Tuesday.

- Colton Davies

ORIGINAL: 9:00 a.m.

The Snowy Mountain wildfire near Keremeos has grown dramatically to 6,125 hectares, driven by high winds, once again making it the largest uncontrolled blaze in B.C.

Wind gusts of up to 50 km/hr from the south have resulted in major growth on the east and north sides of the fire. The latest size estimate Tuesday night means the fire more than doubled in size yesterday

“Smoke is drifting from the incident to adjacent areas, and the smoke column and open flame is visible from the surrounding communities,” the BCWS said online, adding structural protection crews have been sent to the area.

The fire prompted the precautionary evacuation alert of 481 homes in Cawston and Keremeos Tuesday evening, with crews worried the winds could carry burning embers several kilometres away from the fire. The Lower Similkameen Indian Band has issued evacuation alerts of their own.

Fire information officer Claire Allen said Wednesday morning crews in the field are reporting more challenging conditions.

“It’s all hands on deck here, but we are hoping to make some good progress today despite more wind in the forecast,” she said.

A team of 19 firefighters is being supported by three helicopters and four pieces of heavy equipment in trying to construct a hand guard north of Susap Creek today. A machine guard is also being established to the east of the hand guard.

Castanet News has a reporter headed to the Similkameen and will update throughout the day.

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