BRITISH COLUMBIA

Rock Creek Fire Forces Evacuations, Highway Shutdown

08/14/2015 02:10 EDT | Updated 08/13/2016 05:59 EDT

ROCK CREEK, B.C. — Hundreds of people have fled an aggressive fire in British Columbia's southern Interior, including stunned campers who ran from a park with only the clothes on their backs.

Campers had no time to collect their belongings as crews rushed them on foot from Kettle River Provincial Park on Thursday evening, said Fanny Bernard of the B.C. Wildfire Service.

"There are many vehicles, trailers and recreational vehicles left behind,'' she said. "Our main concern was evacuating people from the campground and bringing them to safety as fast as possible and that was done."

About 200 people fled the campground and surrounding area after the fire broke out just north of the junction of Highway 3 and 33 near Rock Creek, she said.

The blaze was estimated to be 800 hectares and growing on Thursday night. The damage to the campground and people's belongings was not immediately clear, said Bernard.

In addition, the BC Wildfire Service said 240 homes were being evacuated from an area that spanned Hulme Creek Road, Christian Valley Road to Fiva Creek and from Rock Creek about 13 kilometres north to Westbridge.

Deep Sidhu with the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary said Rock Creek evacuees — including campers — boarded buses to Midway Community Centre.

Evacuees from the Westbridge area were heading to Beaverdell Community Church and Willow Park Church in Kelowna, he said.

Bernard said the blaze was first reported at around 1:30 p.m and it smouldered for a couple hours before suddenly expanding.

"At 3:30 this afternoon it was a spot fire," she said. "Within a minute it was four hectares and it just grew to 300 very quickly.

"It was originally on the west side of the highway. It jumped not only a highway but a river."

Three four-person attack crews, one 20-person unit, six helicopters, two air tankers and heavy equipment were battling the blaze. The Midway Fire Department was also responding.

Bernard said the cause of the fire is still under investigation and there is heavy smoke billowing from the area. The region is tinder-dry and on Stage 4 water restrictions.

About 1,200 customers were without power in Rock Creek, Westbridge, Beaverdell, Bridesville and Christian Valley, said Fortis B.C. spokeswoman Nicole Bogdanovic.

She said crews could not begin working on the outage until it is declared safe.

"Our crews were directed by emergency officials to evacuate themselves from the area until morning."

Highway 3 was closed in both directions two kilometres west of Rock Creek on Thursday night. Highway 33 was closed in both directions between Rock Creek and McColloch Road.

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