NEWS

B.C. wildfire evacuation orders grow

09/09/2012 09:29 EDT | Updated 11/09/2012 05:12 EST
A raging wildfire in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley has forced 1,500 people from their homes in the community of Peachland.

Fire officials confirmed that the fast-moving blaze, which was spotted in an area called Trepanier Bench some time late Sunday afternoon, was quickly whipped into a major burn by 30 to 40 km/h winds, reaching an estimated 100 hectares in size by 6 p.m. PT.

Police say a number of helicopters, a water bomber and ground crews were quickly brought in to battle the blaze. Officials say the biggest challenges are the wind and the unpredictability of the fire.

Resident Charles Kilpatrick, who spoke to CBC News from an emergency evacuation centre after being ordered out of his home by RCMP, said the fire progressed "very quickly."

"Within a matter of an hour, really, we just looked over the lake and saw the smoke and then sure enough it just spread," he said.

Residents on a number of streets were ordered to leave their homes.

Residents are asked to report to the emergency social services reception centre at the Westbank Lions Community Hall at 2466 Main Street in West Kelowna.

Situation changing quickly

Bruce Smith, with the Emergency Operations Centre in Kelowna, said Sunday night that the situation was changing rapidly and even those who have not yet been forced to leave should prepare.

"If anyone is outside the evacuation area, they should be taking appropriate steps to prepare themselves should the evacuation area expand."

States of local emergency have been declared for affected areas within the Central Okanagan West Electoral Area and in the District of Peachland.

Peachland Elementary School will be closed until further notice.

Highway 97 was closed between the north and south ends of Peachland for several hours but reopened after 9 p.m.

Mounties say animal rescue crews, along with a number of trailers, have been brought in to help move livestock out of the path of the fire.

Residents are being asked to avoid the Westside Road area so emergency responders can tackle the fire, and stay tuned to media reports for updated information.

'It looks like the whole mountain is on fire'

The situation changed dramatically in just over an hour as high winds fanned the flames. A water bomber arrived on scene early Sunday evening to help battle the blaze.

Those living near the fire prepared to leave as the flames drew closer and thick smoke billowed in the sky.

Walter Huber, a winemaker at Hainle Vineyards, said the fire was spreading rapidly.

"It looks like the whole mountain is on fire on the other side," he said.

"There's lots of smoke … It's right in a residential area."

Huber, who fled as the flames got closer, said his family's business is directly in the fire's path.

"The firefighters and the police just evacuated everyone and as I had to leave the winery, there was already sparks in the air," he said.

"It was getting very close. It must have been within less than a kilometre of the winery. I'm not feeling good at all. In fact, I'm quite sick to my stomach. Of course, I don't know anything until we're going to be able to get back up there. I hope the winery is still standing."

Huber wanted to stay to protect the winery but the flames were too close.

One resident told CBC News they hadn't seen orange smoke like this in the area since 2003, when a wildfire in Kelowna forced the evacuation of 27,000 residents.

2nd fire near Falkland, B.C.

Meanwhile, about 80 kilometres north of Peachland, crews battled another wildfire near Falkland.

Vernon RCMP spokesperson Gord Molendyk said crews responded to a fire near the Whispering Pines restaurant just after 6 p.m.

He said crews were on scene and some fire retardant had been dropped, but the size of the fire was unclear.

Highway 97 was closed in both directions between the junction with Highway 97A and the junction with Highway 1.

As of 9 p.m. PT, police and emergency personnel were conducting an assessment to determine whether an evacuation order is warranted.

Molendyk said it was too early to say what the cause of the fire might be.

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