ROCK CREEK, B.C. — Buildings have been destroyed in an aggressive wildfire that has grown exponentially since it was sparked Thursday in British Columbia's Boundary region.
B.C.'s Minister of Forests Steve Thomson said officials haven't confirmed what kind or how many structures have been lost because smoke continues to billow from the Rock Creek fire, about 50 kilometres east of Osoyoos.
"It goes back to public safety. There is a very active fire and in terms of getting in and doing the full assessment, they have to keep that in mind as well,'' he said.
The Rock Creek fire, just five kilometres from the Canada, United States border, forced residents from nearly 300 properties.
Another 200 campers at the Kettle River Provincial Park were forced to run without their belongings as highways 3 and 33 were cut off just north of Rock Creek.
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An evacuation order has also been issued for 10 properties near another blaze east of Osoyoos. The Sidley Mountain fire has been burning east of Oroville, Wash., and jumped the border Thursday.
That fire was set off by the crash of a small plane in northern Washington state that killed two people. Crews responding to the blaze discovered the wreckage of the Cessna 182 along with the bodies of a pilot and passenger.
Rob and Melanie Hardy were chased from their home in Westbridge, north of Rock Creek, when the flames began to encroach.
"Literally, the tree tops were bursting like bombs and falling down on the top of our house,'' Rob Hardy told media outside the Salvation Army Kelowna Community Church, which has been turned into an evacuation centre.
"The wind was just carrying (the embers) for miles and miles. I've never experienced, I've never seen anything like it.''
The Hardys made the difficult decision to let their horses run wild with the hope of saving them and the fear that they may never see them again.
Rob Hardy said he opened a gate and let the animals go down the Trans-Canada trail.
"Oddly enough, they actually went towards the fire at first, (but) I think they were just very confused. Once we got them turned around, they just took off for the river. That's the last I saw of them.''
Campers who were rushed out the provincial park Thursday evening boarded buses to evacuation centres.
Fire information officer Fanny Bernard said many vehicles, trailers and RVs were left behind.
There are currently about 168 fires burning across the province, including the 25-square kilometre Rock Creek fire, said Provincial Fire Information Officer Kevin Skrepnek.
The fire appears to be human caused, he said.
"One human caused fire is one too many, especially given the level of activity we're seeing right now and the level of new naturally occurring fires, particularly in southern B.C.''
A severe weather watch is in effect across a large part of southern B.C., including the area where the two fires are burning. Residents from the Nicola Valley east to the Kootenays are bracing for high winds, large hail and torrential rains.
There have been 1,524 fires so far this year.
The province has spent $198 million fighting wildfires, nearly three times the annual budget of $63 million.
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