VANCOUVER - It was a dry, hot Sunday afternoon, with winds whipping through British Columbia's Okanagan Valley at speeds as high as 60 kilometres an hour, when a lone RCMP officer found himself staring at fire in a ditch along the highway into the lakeside community of Peachland.

"If this doesn't get under control, it's not going to be good," the unidentified officer told his dispatcher over his police radio.

"We're helpless here without ... a fire truck tackling it."

The officer's prediction, heard in audio recordings of RCMP radio traffic obtained by The Canadian Press, was eerily accurate. In a little more than an hour, the fire raced three kilometres through nearby forests and fields, eventually forcing 1,500 people to flee their homes and destroying four houses.

The audio recordings, archived by the website RadioReference.com, offer the first glimpse into the initial response a week ago to what became B.C.'s worst forest fire of the season, as RCMP officers marshalled an evacuation while they waited, at times impatiently, for local or provincial firefighters to arrive.

The fire was reported a few minutes before 3 p.m., and the officer who appeared to be first on the scene arrived almost immediately.

"We got a fire here, a grass fire/forest fire," the officer said, less than a minute after the first mention of smoke over the RCMP radio frequency.

Several officers and their dispatcher then discussed the size of the fire. One Mountie estimated it was about 15 metres by 15 metres, while another told the dispatcher to ensure the provincial Forests Ministry was contacted.

Three minutes after the fire was first reported, the dispatcher informed the officers that because the blaze was just outside of the District of Peachland, the community's fire department wouldn't be responding.

"It is out of (Peachland) Fire's area and they have advised Forestry," the dispatcher said.

The fire was growing and RCMP members were already blocking traffic off the highway into the area.

Eight minutes into the ordeal, police on the scene were growing increasingly concerned the fire was moving dangerously close to houses. By 12 minutes, one officer estimated the fire was moving one or two metres every 30 seconds.

More roads were blocked off, and the growing number of officers at the scene were busy telling residents in the path of the fire to get out.

At 16 minutes, one officer asked his dispatcher where the provincial firefighters are.

"Did forestry give you some sort of ETA?" the officer asked.

"10-10," the dispatcher replied, the RCMP radio code for "negative."

"Did you relay to them the importance of this before it gets out of hand?" the officer said.

"10-4," the dispatcher responded.

Shortly after that exchange, an officer reported an encounter with a worker from the Forests Ministry, but there were still no firefighters, either on the ground or in the air, on the scene.

"I just had a pickup truck come up. He's from Forestry, and he just told me that they're sitting in the hangar waiting for them to come see whether it was (unintelligible) to get on this, so I don't know where it fell apart here," the officer said.

And then, from another Mountie: "It's right into the trees here. She's going full-bore now."

At 23 minutes, an officer noted a Peachland Fire Department truck had just arrived on the scene, though it wasn't clear when the department started to fight the fire.

And at roughly 33 minutes, the recordings include the first mention of an asset from the provincial wildfire branch.

"Copy that the helicopter is on the scene dropping water?" the dispatcher asked.

"10-4," an officer replied.

None of the agencies involved would confirm any of the details of the initial response, such as when the first fire truck, helicopter or tanker arrived to actively target the fire, but the recordings suggest it was as soon as 23 minutes or as long as 33 minutes.

The volunteer Peachland Fire Department, the District of Peachland, the Regional District of Central Okanagan, the RCMP and the Forests Ministry each said it was too early to put together concrete timelines, since they are still responding to the fire, which continues to burn but is now considered fully contained. They each promised those details would come later.

Forests Minister Steve Thompson said he, too, did not have a complete timeline detailing the response, but he praised the work of the crews that fought the fire and credited them for saving untold numbers of homes in extremely difficult conditions.

"In talking to local government representatives and talking to the emergency operations centre, the wildfire management branch and the ministry response received compliments for the speedy response," Thompson said in an interview.

"Given the nature of the fire and where it started, and how rapidly the situation was changing, I think the response times were very good."

Thompson said a review would be completed assessing the response, as with any significant fire.

It also wasn't clear how the Peachland fire compares with typical response times.

The local fire department doesn't set targets for response times, because they often depend on where volunteers live and how fast they can reach the fire hall to gear up. The Forests Ministry couldn't confirm whether the province has its own targets, but noted 92 per cent of wildfires are contained at less than four hectares.

Peachland resident Darren Goulet said he saw the smoke and drove to the fire soon after it started, and he was surprised to only see a single officer at the scene.

When he returned home, a five-minute drive away, he watched and listened for fire truck sirens, tankers or helicopters, and he's concerned with how long it took them to arrive.

He suggested the response may have been slowed because the fire started outside the District of Peachland, so the town's own fire department — which he described as one of the best-trained departments in the province — wasn't immediately sent to fight it.

"The big problem out here is that we've got boundaries for firemen," said Goulet.

"Because of these boundaries— and it's not just here — a fireman cannot just go and take care of it quickly."

None of the agencies involved would say whether jurisdictional boundaries played a role in the Peachland fire, insisting the response will be reviewed later.

But it is an issue that has been repeatedly raised in B.C., particularly after the 2003 fire season, which was the worst in the province's history.

That summer, the province responded to 2,500 wildfires that together scorched 260,000 hectares of forests and burned 334 homes. The largest fire that year was in Kelowna, where 239 homes were destroyed and 27,000 people were under evacuation.

A government-ordered report examining the entire season identified jurisdictional issues as a significant concern.

"Some fire departments do not have authorization to attack out-of-boundary interface fires," the report said.

"Some fire departments do not have effective mutual aid/automatic aid agreements with neighbouring communities. It is unacceptable that emergency agencies are prevented from working together. Other jurisdictions have found effective means by which this can occur and so should British Columbia."

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Six-year-old Peachland wildfire evacuee Azaneth Mejia waits outside an evacuation centre with family friend Carmon Gorzynski in West Kelowna, B.C., on Monday September 10, 2012. One millimetre of rain and calmer winds overnight brought a small amount of relief to fire crews and about 1,500 residents who were quickly evacuated from their homes Sunday in the face of a raging wildfire in Peachland.

  • Fire investigators examine an area where they believe a wildfire started in Peachland, B.C., on Tuesday September 11, 2012. Forestry officials say the fire is 75% contained but 258 people are still not allowed to return home. An evacuation order was lifted for part of the area late Monday allowing approximately 1,100 people to return home.

  • A home destroyed by wildfire is seen next to another home not damaged in Peachland, B.C., on Monday September 10, 2012.

  • Forest Protection Officer Jim Mottishaw talks about a property that was destroyed by a wildfire in Peachland, B.C., on Monday September 10, 2012.

  • A wildfire burns in Peachland, B.C. on September 11, 2012. Officials report the fire is 75 per cent contained and the evacuation order has been rescinded.

  • A wildfire burns in Peachland, B.C. on September 11, 2012. Officials report the fire is 75 per cent contained and the evacuation order has been rescinded.

  • A wildfire burns in Peachland, B.C. on September 11, 2012. Officials report the fire is 75 per cent contained and the evacuation order has been rescinded.

  • A helicopter drops water on a wildfire in Peachland, B.C., on Monday September 10, 2012. One millimetre of rain and calmer winds overnight brought a small amount of relief to fire crews and about 1,500 residents who were quickly evacuated from their homes Sunday in the face of a raging wildfire in Peachland.

  • A helicopter drops water on a wildfire in Peachland, B.C., on Monday September 10, 2012. One millimetre of rain and calmer winds overnight brought a small amount of relief to fire crews and about 1,500 residents who were quickly evacuated from their homes Sunday in the face of a raging wildfire in Peachland.

  • A helicopter draws water from Lake Okanagan while battling a wildfire in Peachland, B.C., on Monday September 10, 2012.

  • A wild fire burns out of control on highway 97C near Peachland, B.C. on Sunday September 9, 2012.Authorities have ordered the evacuation of about a thousand people from the path of a wildfire raging near Peachland, B.C.

  • People watch smoke from a fire near Peachland, B.C. as they sit on Gyro beach in Kelowna on Sunday September 9, 2012. Authorities have ordered the evacuation of about a thousand people from the path of a wildfire raging near Peachland, B.C.

  • A wild fire burns out of control along highway 97C near Peachland, B.C. on Sunday September 9, 2012. Authorities have ordered the evacuation of about a thousand people from the path of a wildfire raging near Peachland, B.C.

  • A wild fire burns out of control along highway 97C near Peachland, B.C. on Sunday September 9, 2012. Authorities have ordered the evacuation of about a thousand people from the path of a wildfire raging near Peachland, B.C.

  • A wild fire burns out of control along highway 97C near Peachland, B.C. on Sunday September 9, 2012. Authorities have ordered the evacuation of about a thousand people from the path of a wildfire raging near Peachland, B.C.

  • Areas affected by Peachland evacuation order

    Mmap of areas affected by the <a href="http://www.kelowna.ca/CM/AssetFactory.aspx?did=11735">Peachland evacuation order/alert</a>.

  • A wild fire burns out of control on highway 97C near Peachland, B.C. on Sunday September 9, 2012.Authorities have ordered the evacuation of about a thousand people from the path of a wildfire raging near Peachland, B.C.

  • Work crews gather along highway 97C near where a wild fire burns out of control near Peachland, B.C. on Sunday September 9, 2012. Authorities have ordered the evacuation of about a thousand people from the path of a wildfire raging near Peachland, B.C.



Loading Slideshow...
  • Gila National Forest Fire

    This image provided by the U.S. Forest Service shows a May 29, 2012 photo, of the massive blaze in the Gila National Forest is seen from Cliff, N.M. Fire officials said Wednesday the wildfire has burned more than 265 square miles has become the largest fire in New Mexico history. (AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service)

  • Gila National Forest Fire

    In this Tuesday, May 29, 2012 photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, a firefighter walks along a burn out line as part of an effort to contain the nation's largest wildfire in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. More than 1,200 firefighters are battling the blaze that has charred 340 square miles, or 218,000 acres, of terrain in the rugged mountains and canyons of southwestern New Mexico. (AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service, Mark Pater)

  • Little Bear Fire

    Smoke billows from the Little Bear fire in southeastern New Mexico near Ruidoso, Saturday, June 9, 2012. Spanning only a few acres on Wednesday, the Little Bear fire began to grow Friday as spot fires formed outside established fire lines due to windy conditions. By Saturday morning, about 10,000 acres had been charred northwest of the mountain community of Ruidoso. (AP Photo/Roswell Daily Record, Mark Wilson)

  • Luce County, MI Fire

    In this Saturday, May 26, 2012 photo provided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, a wildfire burns in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The fire that began last week has burned 95 structures, with a third of them being homes or cabins. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources said Monday, May 28, 2012, that the Duck Lake Fire has burned more than 22,000 acres, or 34 square miles, in Luce County. (AP Photo/Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

  • San Bernardino Fire

    Firefighter Scott Abraham, of the San Bernardino County Fire Department, sprays water as his crew tries to keep the fire from crossing a San Diego County road Friday, May 25, 2012, near Julian, Calif. The blaze broke out Thursday afternoon east of Julian near Banner Grade. About 100 homes were temporarily evacuated in the Shelter Valley area along Highway 78 during the early stages of the fire but that order was lifted late Thursday. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • Gardnerville Fire

    CORRECTS DATE - Firefighters battle a wind-driven fire that has destroyed at least two homes and a number of outbuildings in Topaz Ranch Estates, south of Gardnerville, Nev., on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)

  • Hewlett Wildfire

    Fire burns through trees on the Hewlett wildfire in the Poudre Canyon northwest of Fort Collins, Colo., on Thursday, May 17, 2012. More than 50 homes were evacuated on Thursday. The fire has grown from 1.5 square miles to 8 square miles in the last day as erratic wind gusts of up to 50 mph moved into the area fueled by thunderstorms that didn't produce rain. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Gladiator Fire

    Smoke from the wild fire can be seen from Spring Valley as the sun goes down and firefighters try to protect the town of Crown King Wednesday, May 16, 2012 in Crown King, Ariz. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Tom Tingle) MARICOPA COUNTY OUT; MAGS OUT; NO SALES

  • Gladiator Fire

    The Gladiator Fire burns in the Bradshaw Mountains in Prescott National Forest, Ariz. on Wednesday, May 16, 2012. Authorities are worried that flames from the Gladiator Fire will get past a fire line that's about a mile west of the historic mining town of Crown King, fire incident spokeswoman Loretta Benavidez said Tuesday night. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, David Wallace) MARICOPA COUNTY OUT; MAGS OUT; NO SALES

  • Lower North Fork Wildfire

    Smoke envelops trees on a ridge in the Lower North Fork Wildfire as it burns in the foothills community of Conifer, Colo., southwest of Denver on Tuesday, March 27, 2012. Firefighters are now able to actively battle the blaze on the ground that started on Monday and has already destroyed at least 16 homes in the rugged terrain. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Reno WIldfire

    Emergency personnel respond to a wildfire in Reno, Nev. Friday, Nov. 18, 2011. Nevada firefighters are battling a wind-whipped wildfire that has already burned several homes and caused several injuries. Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez sayfire crews are having a tough time "getting ahead of" the 400-acre blaze. He also says flames broke off into two areas in Caughlin Ranch. Hernandez says about a dozen homes have burned. (AP Photo/The Reno Gazette-Journal, Tim Dunn)

  • Reno Wildfire

    A firefighter tries to keep back the flames, whipped by strong winds, in Reno, Nev. Friday, Nov. 18, 2011. Nevada firefighters are battling a wind-whipped wildfire that has already burned several homes and caused several injuries. Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez sayfire crews are having a tough time "getting ahead of" the 400-acre blaze. He also says flames broke off into two areas in Caughlin Ranch. Hernandez says about a dozen homes have burned. (AP Photo/The Reno Gazette-Journal, Tim Dunn)

  • Reno Wildfire

    A tree burns in the ravine along Manzanita Lane near Broken Arrow in Reno, Nev. Friday, Nov. 18, 2011. Nevada firefighters are battling a wind-whipped wildfire that has already burned several homes and caused several injuries. Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez sayfire crews are having a tough time "getting ahead of" the 400-acre blaze. He also says flames broke off into two areas in Caughlin Ranch. Hernandez says about a dozen homes have burned. (AP Photo/The Reno Gazette-Journal, Liz Margerum) NEVADA APPEAL OUT; NO SALES

  • Smithville Fire

    In this Sept. 5, 2011 file photo firefighters battle a wildfire on Highway 71 near Smithville, Texas. Despite a recent lull in fire activity statewide, the threat remains in parts of Texas, so the Texas Forest Service is not declaring an end to the wildfire season that started Nov. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Erich Schlegel, File)

  • Smithville Fire

    File - In this Sept. 5, 2011 file photo, firefighters battle a large wildfire near Smithville, Texas. Long before this month's historic wildfires in Texas, the state's forest service came up with a $20.4 million plan to stop the flames from starting or tamp them out before small blazes grew deadly and destructive. Three years later, the plan is still only half-funded. (AP Photo/Erich Schlegel, File)

  • Smithville Fire

    File - In this Sept. 5, 2011 file photo firefighters battle a wildfire on Highway 71 near Smithville, Texas. Scorching temperatures, strong winds and dry vegetation are turning Texas wildfires into fast and furious dangers that hop from place to place within hours, even minutes, and give residents little time to flee. Now it

  • Okefenokee Swamp Fire

    In this June 9, 2011 photo provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Honey Prairie fire is seen burning in the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia. A wildfire started by lightning in the Okefenokee Swamp is still smoldering and sputtering six months after it started. (AP Photo/ US Fish and Wildlife Service, Howard McCullough)

  • Tuscarora Wildfire

    In this photo taken Oct. 3, 2011, fire and smoke cast a glow as a wildfire burns behind Tuscarora, Nev. about 52 miles northwest of Elko, Nev. (AP Photo/Elko Daily Free Press, Ross Andréson)

  • Tuscarora Wildfire

    In this photo taken Oct. 3, 2011, a firefighter takes a photograph of a crew member as they wait to for orders to move in for ground work as the Dunphy Complex Fire burns just outside Tuscarora, Nev., about 52 miles northwest of Elko, Nev. (AP Photo/Elko Daily Free Press Ross Andréson)

  • Pagami Creek Fire

    In this aerial photo, an area of the Pagami Creek wildfire shows active burning and creates a large smoke plume on Tuesday Sept. 13, 2011 in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northeastern Minnesota. The haze from the fire was heavy enough that some people reported burning eyes and difficulty breathing in the Chicago area, 600 miles south of the forest fire, the National Weather Service said. (AP Photo/The Duluth News-Tribune, Clint Austin)

  • Brasilia Fire

    A wildfire is seen at a national reserve in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, Sept. 9, 2011. Drought, high temperatures and low humidity have caused wildfires at several places around Brasilia, according to officials. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

  • Tehachapi Fire

    A large wildfire to the southwest of Tehachapi, Calif. burns on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011. A single-engine Cessna 210 went down in Blackburn Canyon near the small community of Tehachapi, sparking a raging brush fire that sent up a huge plume of smoke visible for miles around, according to Kern County fire department spokesman Cary Wright. (AP Photo/Dave Mills)

  • Possum Kingdom Lake Fire

    A wildfire roars through dry trees near Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. Texas and Oklahoma are in the grips of a record-setting drought, and a summer of soaring temperatures and little rain has meant the wildfire season, which usually ends in spring, didn't end this year. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

  • Edmond Wildfire

    A wildfire burns near 63rd and Sooner Road on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011, in Edmond, Okla. (AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Chris Landsberger)

  • Air Depot Wildfire

    Cattle move to avoid the flames of a large grass fire in a farm off of Air Depot between 63rd and Wilshire in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011. Authorities have evacuated a larger area in Oklahoma City where a stiff winds and dry conditions fueled a wildfire that destroyed several homes. (AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Paul Hellstern)

  • Santa Barbara Wildfire

    In this Nov. 14, 2008 file photo, a firefighter sprays water on the flames as a mansion burns during a wildfire in Santa Barbara, Calif. As part of the recently approved California budget, owners of rural homes will be assessed a $150 annul fee for fire protection covered by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

  • The Monument Fire

    The Monument fire burns Thursday afternoon June 16, 2011 near Hereford, Ariz. Authorities say the Monument fire has charred more than 9,300 acres or 14 square miles. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Pat Shannahan)

  • Sierra Vista Wildfire

    Fire trucks escape the flames near South Andalusian Way after the fire jumped State Route 92 as a wildfire burns on Thursday, June 16, 2011 near Sierra Vista, Ariz. (AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star, Dean Knuth)

  • Wallow Fire

    The Wallow fire burns towards Eagar, Ariz, north of Greer, Ariz,, Wednesday night June 8, 2011. The fire in eastern Arizona that already forced thousands from their homes headed Wednesday for a pair of transmission lines that supply electricity to hundreds of thousands of people as far east as Texas. (AP Photo/Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic)

  • Wallow Fire

    In this June 10, 2011 file photo, a forest burns during a backburn operation to fight the Wallow Fire in Nutrioso, Ariz. The West's 2012 wildfire season exploded in earnest last month with a wind-whipped blaze that killed three people in rugged alpine canyon country near Denver. At its peak, it took a 700-strong federal firefighting team a week of labor, day and night, to tame the blaze _ and other states throughout the West took notice.Fire experts say this year's drought, low snowpack and record-high temperatures in much of the West portend a dangerous installment of what has become year-round wildfire threat. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

  • Arizona Wildfire Is Largest in State's History

    The massive wildfire in Arizona is now 750 square miles and beginning to threaten towns in New Mexico.

  • Wildfires Sweep Through Colorado

    Firefighters struggle to battle a huge fire in an inaccessible forest near Fort Collins, Colorado.