05/13/2013 07:49 EDT | Updated 07/13/2013 05:12 EDT

BC Wildfire Forces Evacuation Order In Blue Sky Country


ASHCROFT, B.C. - Dozens of rural properties in B.C.'s southern Interior remain under evacuation order thanks to a raging 1,400-hectare wildfire, spurred on by gusty winds.

With winds reaching between 40 and 70 kilometres an hour, emergency officials issued evacuation orders to as many as 50 properties near Ashcroft, B.C., Sunday night and closed a stretch of Highway 97-C in what's known as the Spatsum Creek fire.

Winds dropped to about 20 to 30 kilometres an hour by Monday afternoon though, allowing officials to reduce the scope of the evacuation order to about 30 or 35 properties and reopen the highway.

"Over the weekend, it's definitely been a wind-driven incident, and winds have been calm compared to what we were seeing on the weekend," said Kevin Skrepnek, a spokesman with the Wildlife Management Branch.

The area is known as Blue Sky Country, just east of Ashcroft, although the village of Ashcroft has not been affected.

Already weeks old, the fire is believed to have been caused by humans because there's been a lack of lightening activity, Skrepnek said.

Recent hot-and-dry weather increased the fire's intensity, he added, and even though the area saw cooler conditions this weekend, winds drove the fire's growth.

In fact, one structure was destroyed early Sunday.

According to the Wildfire Management Branch, about 80 firefighters, five helicopters, heavy equipment and air tankers battled the fire Monday.

Crews were also forced to deal with steep, rocky terrain.

Mike Garrett, an information officer at the local emergency operations centre, said the area under evacuation order Monday afternoon covered about 1,916 hectares, while an evacuation alert covered an area of about 5,237 hectares.

He urged people who were still in the area covered by the evacuation order to get out.

Also on Monday, the Kamloops Fire Centre prohibited all open burning, except in the Clearwater and Salmon Arm fire zones, to prevent human-caused fires.

The ban will cover the Clearwater and Salmon Arm fire zone on June 15.

The fire centre reports it has responded to 43 human-caused wildfires since April 1.

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