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Hundreds evacuated, thousands on notice as wildfire flares in southern B.C.

PENTICTON, B.C. — British Columbia’s unusually quiet wildfire season ended abruptly Tuesday as a fire flared in the southern Okanagan, forcing hundreds from their homes.

Smoke from the blaze, above Skaha Lake near Penticton, was first spotted in the early afternoon and by midnight about 10 square kilometres of bush had been charred. 

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen ordered the evacuation of 319 properties in the path of the fire. 

The City of Penticton also issued evacuation alerts for 3,669 properties on its southeast side and further alerts cover another 116 properties in the Upper Carmi area and Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says the blaze is burning in steep and rocky terrain and is uncontained, with more firefighters and structure protection teams being assigned.     

A separate 18-hectare wildfire is also burning along Highway 33 between Beaverdell and Carmi and the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary has placed 44 properties on evacuation alert.

The wildfire service says the fire was likely sparked by lightning and it has provided aerial and heavy equipment support to the local fire department.

A cause of the larger wildfire near Penticton has not yet been determined, the wildfire service said on its website.

More than 100 fires have flared in the province over the last two days in the wake of lightning storms and a heat wave has raised the wildfire danger rating to high or extreme across most of southern and central B.C.

Penticton-area evacuees are familiar with out-of-control fires.

A large blaze in 1994 force 3,500 residents to flee and destroyed 18 homes, but a major emergency during a pandemic is something new.

The regional district had set up a reception centre in Penticton for evacuees with the need for physical distancing complicating the procedure.

Evacuees and residents whose properties are on evacuation alert were being urged to register online, if possible.

In the meantime, heat continued for another day in Penticton with Environment Canada predicting temperatures in the low 30s.

The city was among four Okanagan-area communities that set temperature records Tuesday, breaking a 57-year record with a high of 37.5 C.

The weather office says the heat should relent Thursday and showers are forecast by Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2020.

The Canadian Press


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