Thomas Creek fire grows to 5,500 hectares, boaters told to stay off Skaha Lake

Fire grows to 5,500 ha.

Casey Richardson

UPDATE 7:50 p.m.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says the Thomas Creek wildfire outside Okanagan Falls is now 5,500 hectares.

“The size increase is attributed to hot and dry conditions in the area on July 13, as well as windy conditions in the afternoon,” BCWS said in a brief statement Thursday evening.

“Ground personnel will continue to work on the south flank of the fire and are assisted by heavy equipment to establish and reinforce fire guards.”

Thirty firefighters and four helicopters remain assigned to the fire.

UPDATE: 6:15 p.m.

City officials in Penticton are urging boaters to steer clear of firefighting aircraft filling up on Skaha Lake.

The Thomas Creek fire is burning out of control near Okanagan Falls. The fire covers an estimated 5,000 hectares.

“Air tankers responding to the nearby wildfire are collecting lake water to support their efforts,” the City of Penticton said in a news release on Thursday.

“When aircraft are approaching lake surfaces for this purpose, it is requested that boaters refrain from operating water vessels in any portion of the lake where air tankers are refilling and maintain operational awareness of aircraft at all times.”

The city said no fires are currently burning inside Penticton municipal limits, but officials are urging residents to be careful given the tinder-dry conditions.

“Residents are advised to exercise extra caution when undertaking activities that could trigger a fire,” the release said.

UPDATE: 3:15 p.m.

The Thomas Creek wildfire remains classified by BC Wildfire Service as out of control on Thursday afternoon, with an estimated size of 5000 hectares. But the growth of the fire is staying away from Okanagan Falls.

When the fire sparked on Sunday, the Okanagan Falls volunteer fire department jumped into action.

Now that the fire is in the BCWS hands, the local firefighters are doing their part by patrolling the perimeter and keeping citizens aware of what’s going on.

“So we do patrols, we're patrolling our areas, we're speaking to the homeowners, and they just feel very good at least with the fire department checking their properties. We talked to them, and they feel good that at least someone's looking after them,” Fred Dobransky, the Okanagan Falls Fire Chief said.

“We're in our areas that are basically could get compromised if the fire decides to say jump somehow with either embers or start spotting either itself or in the evening if there's a downdraft and starts pushing it down the mountain back into the valley bottom”

Dobransky explained that the wildfire does not currently pose an imminent risk to structures, and the wind continues to push the fire into the backcountry and away from town.

“Right now everything is looking good in our area, there's no structures at risk at this time. The wind is blowing in the proper direction...going back in the backcountry and is keeping away, keeping out of town. That's the main thing for us.

“We do see candling on the trees higher up, but this morning I believe they were doing a controlled burn just above the garbage dump which is on Allendale Lake Road.”

The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen still has 704 properties remaining on Evacuation Alert as of their Thursday afternoon update, continuing to urge people to be prepared to leave at a moment's notice.

“Any areas of concern to us at this time will be the south area of fire which is the Allendale Lake Road area,” Dobransky added, explaining that the fire started on the north end of McLean Creek Road and worked its way back south and went off the side of the ridge of the mountain.

“We were a little concerned about maybe at one time of it coming into Golden Acres and Heritage Hills, but it's still a long distance from there. The winds have been favourable for us, the winds actually since Sunday. So we're going to the north wind blowing to go in the fire south so it is keeping it out of our area. I'm happy about that.

With heavy smoke in the area from the fire, it can be hard to tell where the fire is.

“Nice thing about nighttime, we can see exactly what's happening. Daytime, it's hard to tell where the fire is, you can see the smoke, but you can see the actual glow, you can tell where it is actually burning heavily.”

An area restriction remains in place for the vicinity of the fire and the Okanagan Falls boat launch has been closed as of Wednesday by the RDOS.

The Okanagan Falls Volunteer Fire Department remains ready to aid in the fire fight if needed.

“Everything's ready to go with if a call comes in. And we always we always have a mutual aid program. So with the other fire departments in the Regional District.”

For now, Dobransky urges people to remain vigilant with the dry conditions.

“We still got hot weather and people have to remember this is we're just the middle of July. We still got the rest of July and August...We’ve got no rain in the forecast. “

Casey Richardson

UPDATE: 10:45 a.m.

Castanet reporter Casey Richardson offered a live look at the Thomas Creek wildfire Thursday morning. Watch the video above.

The fire is still putting up large plumes of smoke, and the air is filled with settled-in haze that has spread to many nearby communities including Penticton.

BC Wildfire Service has not yet provided an update on size Thursday, but their latest estimate as of Wednesday night is 5,000 hectares.

ORIGINAL: 6:15 a.m.

Four personnel and two water tenders remained on site overnight at the massive Thomas Creek wildfire burning east of Skaha Lake.

As of Wednesday night, ground crews were continuing to work on the west/southwest flank of the fire closest to homes and were assisted by heavy equipment to establish and reinforce fire guards.

The BC Wildfire Service said in an 8:30 p.m. update that planned ignitions between the fire guard and the fire perimeter will help eliminate available fuels.

The fire exploded to an estimated 5,000.0 hectares in size Wednesday and remains out of control.

Hot, dry and windy conditions contributed to its growth.

An area restriction remains in place for the vicinity of the fire, and 704 properties are under evacuation alert.

On Wednesday, 30 firefighters were battling the blaze, along with aerial support from six helicopters, multiple pieces of heavy equipment, Structure Protection Units and the local fire department.

More Penticton News