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West Kelowna declares state of emergency with 6,600 properties on alert over looming wildfires

The City of West Kelowna and the Westbank First Nation in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley have declared a local state of emergency due to a looming wildfire.

B.C. entering critical 48 hours for wildfires, officials warn, with high winds and lightning in forecast

People walking out a front door.


The City of West Kelowna and the Westbank First Nation in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley have declared a local state of emergency due to a looming wildfire.

The move comes as officials warn the next 48 hours could be the most challenging yet in what has already been an unprecedented wildfire season in the province.

Central Okanagan Emergency Operations has placed 68 properties on evacuation order and another 6,600 properties on alert due to the nearby McDougall Creek wildfire, which has more than quadrupled in size to three square kilometres after being discovered Tuesday about 10 kilometres northwest of West Kelowna, which has a population of 36,000.

WATCH | B.C. Wildfire Service forecaster explains concerns over potential new wildfires:

B.C. wildfire forecaster 'very concerned' about the days ahead

1 day ago

Duration 1:59

Neal McLoughlin says he's worried this week's record-breaking temperatures combined with forecasts of high wind and dry lightning will lead to the rapid growth of more wildfires in southern B.C.

"You know, it started very small, as they all do, but I think by the end of today, we will be looking at a much larger fire right behind our community, and that is what our concern is," West Kelowna Fire Chief Jason Brolund said in an interview Thursday morning.

Brolund said drought conditions, a dry landscape and high winds and lightning in the forecast have combined to make a threatening outlook.

"It will take literally nothing to get a fire started on a day like we're going to have today," he said.

Evacuees asked to seek shelter with friends, family

The areas under evacuation order or alert don't include Highway 97, which runs through the community but does cover several business areas, neighbourhoods and subdivisions.

Due to the high number of properties under evacuation orders and alerts, residents are being directed to an interactive map to search by address to find out how individual homes and businesses are impacted.

Evacuees are being asked to register online or go to the Information Centre at Royal LePage Place at 2760 Cameron Road in West Kelowna.

A public information line is also available at 250-469-8490 or 1-877-569-8490.

The regional district is also asking evacuees to reach out to friends and family as hotels, motels and other tourism operators in the area are at capacity.

Everyone covered by an evacuation alert is asked to be prepared to leave at a moment's notice, as the province is facing a highly volatile wildfire situation that could worsen at a moment's notice.

A critical 48 hours

West Kelowna isn't alone in facing a volatile fire situation.

The next two days will be the most critical of this wildfire season in British Columbia, provincial officials say.

Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma and Minister of Forests Bruce Ralston were among those who addressed the ongoing wildfire, drought and heat conditions at a news conference Thursday morning before a cold-weather front was expected to bring strong winds and lightning for virtually the entire province.

"This weather event has the potential to be the most challenging 24 to 48 hours of the summer from a fire perspective," said Cliff Chapman, director of wildfire operations for the B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS).

"We are expecting significant growth, and we are expecting our resources to be challenged from north to south of the province over the next 48 hours."

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 16,000 square kilometres of land has burned in B.C., the most recorded land burned in the province's history.

More stories on wildfires and heat:

People across B.C. should be prepared to leave their homes

Neal McLoughlin, a BCWS forecaster, warns that people across the province, particularly in the southern and Interior regions, should be prepared to leave their homes.

In a video released by the provincial firefighting agency on Wednesday, McLoughlin says record-high temperatures recorded earlier this week — with some places reaching highs above 40 C — combined with predicted high winds and dry lightning for Thursday through Friday have turned much of the province into a tinderbox, meaning new fires could start and spread very easily.

"You're probably noticing your lawn is starting to show signs of fall. It's turning brown, and you may also be seeing early signs of deciduous trees turning yellow," he said.

"These plants are experiencing extreme drought conditions and [are] available to burn more than it typically would be this time of year."

Follow evacuation orders, minister urges

Ma reiterated the importance of residents being prepared with grab-and-go kits so they can leave their homes quickly should an evacuation order come.

"We are urging people to stay calm, to be alert and to be prepared," she said.

"An evacuation order is not the time to wait and see, especially not under the conditions that are being forecasted."

Environment Canada has issued special weather statements covering much of the province's Interior, including the Cariboo, Chilcotin, Okanagan, Thompson-Nicola and Kootenays for a cold front moving into the province, bringing with it an unstable atmosphere and gusty conditions.

Wind gusts of up to 70 km/h, along with dry lightning and continued heat, could contribute to more or worsening wildfires, the agency warns, with drought-stricken trees more likely to burn and blow over.

Under these conditions, a large fire could "quickly change directions," McLoughlin says, "with the flank of the fire quickly becoming the head, and we could have a large fire growing quite quickly across the landscape."

Other orders, alerts

Meanwhile, the Crater Creek wildfire southwest of Keremeos continues to burn over an area of 100 square kilometres.

It led to the evacuation of more than 100 people in the southern Interior community near the U.S. border. Twelve properties remain on evacuation order due to the fire, and 74 are on evacuation alert.

Around 1,000 properties in the Kootenays are also on evacuation alert due to several fires burning near the communities of Panorama, Radium Hot Springs and Sparwood.

They include the Horsethief Creek wildfire burning about 10 kilometres west of Invermere, a fire of note that is currently almost 40 square kilometres.

The Columbia-Shuswap Regional District has also expanded evacuation alerts due to the Lower East Adams Lake wildfire northeast of Kamloops.

The BCWS says it was close to lifting evacuation orders covering more than 200 properties around Gun Lake, north of Pemberton, where the 26-square-kilometre Downton Lake fire has destroyed three properties, but those plans have been stalled because of the incoming wind and potential lightning.

As of Thursday, 372 active wildfires were burning in B.C., with 14 of those being wildfires of note — meaning they are particularly visible or threatening to properties.

Chapman said there are 3,400 firefighters deployed across the province, with dozens from other jurisdictions such as Mexico and Costa Rica.

B.C. taking patients from N.W.T.

Both Ma and Ralston acknowledged the devastation wildfires are having in the Northwest Territories, with Yellowknife under an evacuation order. They said B.C. was standing with the N.W.T. and would be receiving 55 hospital and care home patients from there.

B.C. ready to receive long-term care and hospital patients from NWT wildfire evacuations

4 hours ago

Duration 1:12

B.C. Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma says the province stands ready to offer assistance for NWT evacuees and will receive hospital patients and long-term care residents from Yellowknife.

But officials said because of the convergence of a heat wave, drought and already dry conditions in B.C. combined with a threatening weather event, the province would not be able to send any firefighters to the territory at this time.

"There is a strong likelihood of new fire starts that will grow quickly and unpredictably in the coming days," said Ralston about B.C.

Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire.

To find the centre closest to you, visit the EmergencyInfoBC website.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

Do you have a story to share?

If you've been affected by the B.C. wildfires and want to share your story, email cbcnewsvancouver@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press, Chad Pawson, Andrew Kurjata and Jordan Tucker

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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