Cathedral Provincial Park placed on evacuation order as fires loom over Keremeos

Evacuation order issued

UPDATE 11:10 p.m.

An evacuation order has been issued for Cathedral Lakes Provincial Park and the surrounding area.

However, those within the provincial park and Snowy Protected Area are being told to shelter in place.

“Anyone along Ashnola Road in the area of Ewart Creek and Cathedral Lakes Lodge base camp, should also shelter-in-place until further notice,” the RDOS said in a statement Tuesday night.

“Please avoid the area.”

Details of the evacuation order and a full list of impacted addresses is here.

Cathedral Lakes Lodge operates the only private road into the provincial park, from their base camp on Ashnola River Road.

Backpackers and lodge patrons are shuttled in and out of the park by lodge staff for a fee, meaning the park is often evacuated as a precautionary measure when fires are near. The park, which has extremely limited cell service, also contains emergency helicopter pads and muster points.

An evacuation alert has also been issued for an areas along Highway 3 near where the Ashnola River meets the Similkameen. Details here. Those under an evacuation alert should pack and be ready to leave on a moment’s notice.

An Emergency Support Services (ESS) reception centre has been activated at the Village of Keremeos Victory Hall at 427-7TH Ave., Keremeos located along Highway 3. If you require ESS services, call 250-486-1890.

UPDATE 10 p.m.

A red glow from a pair of wildfires burning west of Keremeos is now visible from the village.

The Gillanders Creek and Crater Creek wildfires are burning above the Ashnola Flats and have forced evacuation alerts for the area and Cathedral Provincial Park.

The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen says its emergency operations centre is working with the BC Wildfire Service on the fires.

Photos posted to local Facebook groups by residents of the village of Keremeos show flames visible at the top of the mountains to the west of the community.

There are no alerts or orders in place for Keremeos itself.

The fire is very visible from Highway 3, looking south down the Ashnola River, as seen in a video sent to Castanet.

UPDATE: 7:45 p.m.

The BC Wildfire Service says a large plume of smoke seen from as far away as Kelowna on Tuesday night is from one of two wildfires burning south of Keremeos, at Cathedral Provincial Park.

The Gillanders Creek wildfire has been burning 12 kilometres south of Keremeos, within park boundaries since July 13. The fire was started by lightning and was most recently estimated to be 480 hectares in size.

The 697-hectare Crater Creek fire is burning to the west, about 18 kilometres southwest of Keremos, and was discovered on July 22.

“Those ones have become more visible, especially in the last couple of hours,” said Kyla Preto, BCWS fire information officer, on Tuesday evening.

The plumes of smoke appear to be dramatic-looking pyrocumulus clouds, which form when hot air from an intense fire rises. When the air reaches high enough into the atmosphere, it cools to form clouds.

According to Environment Canada, pyrocumulus clouds aren’t uncommon, but high pressure ridges responsible for heat waves cause the formation to be more noticeable.

On Tuesday, the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen issued an evacuation alert for Cathedral Provincial Park and some surrounding areas due to the wildfires.

Preto said both fires are burning in steep terrain that poses a safety risk for ground crews.

BCWS said there are 10 crew members supported by heavy equipment and helicopters at Crater Creek, while the Gillanders Creek is only being monitored.

Castanet News is monitoring the wildfires and will update this story as more information is available.

UPDATE 7:20 p.m.

A pair of wildfires in the Similkameen are visible from Kelowna.

A massive large plume of smoke that BCWS says is likely coming from the Gillanders Creek and Crater Creek can be seen from across the Central and South Okanagan.

More to come...

ORIGINAL 5:55 p.m.

The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen has issued an evacuation alert for Cathedral Provincial Park and some surrounding areas due to a pair of wildfires.

The Gillanders Creek fire has been burning within park boundaries since July 13 when it was started by lightning. It has now grown to 480 hectares.

The Crater Creek fire is burning just north of the park boundaries and has now reached just under 700 hectares. It was discovered on July 22 and was started by lighting.

The BC Wildfire Service says they now have 10 crew members supported by heavy equipment and helicopters at the site of the Crater Creek fire.

The Gillanders Creek fire, however, is only being monitored — a common practice when a wildfire is burning in a park or protected area.

Cathedral Provincial Park, in particular, is full of fallen and standing beetle-killed trees.

“We manage using a combination of techniques with the goal to minimize costs and damage while maximizing ecological benefits from the fire,” said fire information officer Kyla Preto.

“Fire is a crucial piece of British Columbia's landscape, so where it's occurring in parks, we try to leave it, let it do its thing, where it's beneficial to the environment. But in this case, we'll continue to monitor to make sure that it doesn't impact any values.”

The RDOS evacuation alert impacts the Cathedral Lakes Lodge, which operates the only private road in and out of the park.

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