Hwy 97 reopens after grass fire north of Penticton

Evacuations lifted after fire

Chelsea Powrie

UPDATE: 12:50 p.m.

The evacuation notice has been lifted in the Sage Mesa area north west of Penticton.

Road restrictions remain in effect for properties on Sage Mesa Dr that are north of Ladera Pl. Full details on the updates can be found here.

Vehicle access remains restricted at this time. Residents in these properties on Sage Mesa Drive can return to their homes but must walk in. 

The Emergency Support Service Reception Centre at 199 Ellis Street in Penticton will remain open until 2 p.m. today.

UPDATE: 12:30 p.m.

Residents around Sage Mesa Drive north of West Bench are breathing a sigh of relief after a wildfire sparked Thursday morning was quickly controlled. 

Bob Harvey packed up his car with personal items, his wife and his dog after spotting smoke.

"I was sitting by my front window looking out at the lake and I noticed smoke coming up out of one of the gullies just north of us, and within about three or four minutes I started seeing flames," Harvey said. 

This was shortly after 8 a.m., and Harvey called BC Wildfire then 911 and was told crews were on the way. 

"From our vantage point, it looked like [the fire] was within a few feet of some of the houses just north of us, so we were very worried," Harvey said. 

Crews from the Penticton Fire Department and Penticton Indian Band Fire Department quickly arrived on scene, and the BC Wildfire Service followed soon after. 

RCMP closed the section of highway near the blaze, and as of early Thursday afternoon, traffic is still very backed up and moving slowly southbound and northbound, alternating in one lane. 

But the brush fire itself has been contained. 

"It feels much better. We spoke with many of our neighbours this morning who live up there who all said the same thing, looks like it's under control," Harvey said. 

The Penticton Fire Department said no structures were lost to the fire. 

UPDATE 10 a.m.

Traffic has reopened to single-lane alternating traffic in both directions. Motorists should expect significant delays as the backlog clears.

Fire crews are now mopping up.

UPDATE 9:50 a.m.

The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen says it has issued tactical evacuations for the Sage Mesa neighbourhood near the fire.

The emergency operations centre says it fire crews have already been evacuating homes near the fire.

A full list of the evacuated address can be found here.

Fire activity, however, appears to have died down considerably with minimal smoke now emanating from the fire. Crews appear to be mopping up hot spots.

UPDATE 9:40 a.m.

Fire crews appear to have gotten a handle on the grass fire just north of Penticton off Highway 97. 

The blaze is now putting off very little smoke. 

Motorists report Highway 97 is moving again northbound, very slowly. DriveBC, however, says the closure is still in place. 

UPDATE: 9 a.m.

All traffic southbound on Highway 97 into Penticton is being stopped and turned around just south of Summerland, and Castanet reporter Casey Richardson on scene says only "very few cars" travelling northbound are coming through from her location near Soorimpt. 

Richardson reports that RCMP say it could be a few hours until the highway reopens. 

Crews continue to battle a new blaze near the highway and in a residential area on Sage Mesa Drive. 

A helicopter is now on scene.

BC Wildfire says “our crews have mobilized and air tankers are heading to the scene as quickly as they can manage.”

UPDATE: 8:45 a.m.

Traffic on Highway 97 by Sage Mesa Drive is operating at one lane in both directions as crews attack a brush fire sparked just north of Penticton Thursday morning. 

Drive BC says to expect delays. 

Penticton and Penticton Indian Band fire crews are on scene at a command at Sage Mesa Drive. 

More information to come. 

ORIGINAL: 8:27 a.m.

Castanet has received numerous reports of black smoke billowing from what appears to be a fire about a kilometre north of Penticton, on highway 97.

Flames are visible now and emergency vehicles have just arrived on scene.

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