A raging wildfire in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley has forced 1,500 people from their homes, and officials are asking dozens more to be prepared to leave at a moment's notice.
Fire officials confirm the fast-moving blaze, which was spotted in an area called Trepannier Bench some time late Sunday afternoon, was quickly whipped into a major burn by 30- to 40-kilometre an hour winds, hitting an estimated 100 hectares in size by 6 p.m. PT.
Police say a number of helicopters, a water bomber and ground crews were quickly brought in to battle the blaze. Officials say the biggest challenge in fighting is the wind and the unpredictability of the fire.
Resident Charles Kilpatrick, who spoke to CBC News from an emergency evacuation centre after being ordered out of his home by RCMP, said the fire progressed "very quickly."
"Within a matter of an hour, really, we just looked over the lake and saw the smoke and then sure enough it just spread," he said.
Residents of the following streets have been ordered to leave their homes:
- Clarence Road.
- Coldham Road.
- Cousins Place.
- Cousins Road.
- Desert Pines Avenue.
- Dryden Road.
- Greata Road.
- Huston Road.
- Inglis Place.
- Lang Court.
- Lever Court.
- Lornell Court.
- Mackinnon Road.
- MacNeill Court.
- Morrison Crescent.
- Morrison Court.
- Morrison Place.
- Shaw Road.
- Smith Way.
- Star Place.
- Sutherland Road.
- Trepanier Bench Road.
- Trepanier Heights.
- Trepanier Road.
- Walker Road.
- Witt Place.
Residents are asked to report to the emergency social services reception centre at the Westbank Lions Community Hall at 2466 Main Street in West Kelowna.
Situation changing quickly
Bruce Smith with the Emergency Operations Centre in Kelowna says the situation is changing rapidly and even those who have not yet been forced to leave should prepare.
"If anyone is outside the evacuation area, they should be taking appropriate steps to prepare themselves should the evacuation area expand."
An evacuation alert is in effect for the following areas:
- 1st Avenue.
- 2nd Avenue.
- 3rd Avenue.
- 4th Avenue.
- 6th Avenue.
- 7th Avenue.
- Clements Crescent.
- Pincushion Place.
- Ponderosa Drive.
- Ponderosa Place.
States of local emergency have been declared for affected areas within the Central Okanagan West Electoral Area and in the District of Peachland.
Peachland Elementary School will be closed until further notice.
Highway 97C has been closed between the north and south ends of Peachland because of the unpredictable nature of the fast-moving fire and the smoke and flames being driven down toward the highway.
Mounties say animal rescue crews, along with a number of trailers, have been brought in to help move livestock out of the path of the fire.
Residents are being asked to avoid the Westside Road area so emergency responders can tackle the fire and stay tuned to media reports for updated information.
'It looks like the whole mountain is on fire'
The situation changed dramatically in just over an hour as high winds fanned the flames. A water bomber arrived on scene early Sunday evening to help battle the blaze.
Smoke can be seen billowing from a fire just outside of Peachland, B.C. (Belle Puri/CBC)
Those living near the fire prepared to leave as the flames drew closer and thick smoke billowed in the sky.
Walter Huber, a winemaker at Hainle Vineyards, said the fire was spreading rapidly.
"It looks like the whole mountain is on fire on the other side," he said.
"There's lots of smoke. There's about five fire bombers in there right now and several helicopters.... It's right in a residential area."
Huber, who fled as the flames tore closer, says his family's business is directly in the fire's path.
"The firefighters and the police just evacuated everyone and as I had to leave the winery, there was already sparks in the air," he said.
"It was getting very close. It must have been within less than a kilometre of the winery. I'm not feeling good at all. In fact, I'm quite sick to my stomach. Of course, I don't know anything until we're going to be able to get back up there. I hope the winery is still standing."
Huber wanted to stay to protect the winery but the flames were too close.
One resident told CBC News they hadn't seen orange smoke like this in the area since 2003, when a wildfire in Kelowna forced the evacuation of 27,000 residents.
2nd fire burns near Falkland, B.C.
Meanwhile, about 80 kilometres north of Peachland, crews are battling another wildfire near Falkland.
Vernon RCMP spokesperson Gord Molendyk said crews responded to a fire near the Whispering Pines restaurant just after 6 p.m.
He said crews are on scene and some fire retardant had been dropped, but the size of the fire was unclear.
Highway 97 was closed in both directions from the junction with Highway 97A to the junction with Highway 1.
As of 9 p.m. PT, police and emergency personnel were conducting an assessment to determine whether an evacuation order was warranted.
Molendyk was expected to release more information later Sunday night.
He said it's too early to say what the cause of the fire might be.
With files from The Canadian Press