Strong winds fanned flames in the hills near a residential area on the south side of Highway 97, north of Peachland, challenging fire fighters and forcing over a thousand to evacuate their homes.
The fire started around 3 p.m. near Trepanier Creek Greenway Regional Park and grew steadily, despite an early assault from helicopters bucketing water, as winds moving from 50 to 60 km per hour whipped through the valley.
By 6 p.m., the blaze was measured at roughly 100 hectares and an evacuation order was issued for the approximately 1,500 residents living on the south west of the Okanagan Connector including Trepanier Road from the Connector. (See full evacuation area below.) Those residents were directed to an Emergency Social Services Reception Centre opened at the Westbank Lions Community Hall, at 2466 Main Street, by 6 p.m. A second ESS reception centre was set up in Summerland at the Summerland Arena and Curling Club for evacuated residents who could not head north to Westbank and head to leave to the south, said CORD spokesman Bruce Smith.
Speaking on radio at 7:15 p.m. Sunday, Smith could not say how many structures had burned because the fire was still actively being fought. But several people who arrived at the ESS reception centre in Westbank said they saw at least two houses in flames, including one close to the Hainle Vineyards Winery.
“The house right above the winery was in flames and (Trapanier) road was closed and we had to turn around,” said Moyra Baxter, the Peachland area school trustee who was one of the people evacuated. She said it appeared fire retardant had been dumpred on and around the winery.
Baxter said she was concerned about the fate of the Peachland Elementary School because the fire was believed to have burned over the hill behind the nearby IGA grocery store, which is located beside the school.
She said when she left her home on Sutherland Road, flames were about seven or eight properties away from her home.
Like many of the other people at the Westbank reception centre, Baxter said she left with the clothes on her back and little else.
The planes and helicopters fighting the flmes were grounded by darkness around 7:30 p.m. but firefighters were expected to keep fighting the flames as best they could over night.
The fire caused chaos on the roads in Peachland. Highway 97 through the small Okanagan town was closed, and all the small roads leading to it were backed up as families with their vehicles chock full of personal possessions were basically parked on the highway. Behind them billows of brown and black smoke filled the sky and unconfirmed reports came in that two homes and cars had been incinerated.
The anxiety on the roads was underscored by the thrum of helicopters and water bombers that continually flew overhead in their path from the fire, to the lake. Despite their effort, no indication that the blaze had subsided was evident.
What may help, however, is that winds slowed to around 15 km/hr as the evening wore on. Unfortunately, however, waterbombers and helicopters had to give up their assault as darkness fell.
Until firefighters get the upper hand, the public is asked to:
- Avoid the Westside Road area so emergency responders can effectively perform their duties
- Stay tuned to the media for further information. Please do not call the Fire Department or other emergency services for information.
- DO NOT CALL 911 unless it’s a life threatening emergency
- Remain calm
- Stay by the phone to receive a call if a family member(s) may have been impacted.
New information will be available on the Regional District Emergency Program website www.cordemergency.ca and updates will also be there and released to the media as soon as it becomes available. Media can contact (250) 469-8493 if needed. Public inquiries can be directed to 1-877-569-8490.
The Evacuation Order is in place for properties affected by a forest fire southwest of the Okanagan Connector including Trepanier Road from the Connector including Star Place all within the Central Okanagan West Electoral Area and an area within the District of Peachland on the following roads:
- 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
An Evacuation Alert is in effect for properties affected by a forest fire south west of the Okanagan Connector. The streets within the Evacuation Alert area include:
- 1st Avenue
- 2nd Avenue
- 3rd Avenue
- 4th Avenue
- 6th Avenue
- 7th Avenue
- Clements Crescent
- Pincushion Place
- Ponderosa Drive
- Ponderosa Place
An Evacuation Alert means residents should be prepared to leave their homes with little or short notice should the fire threat grow and the Evacuation Order is expanded.
A map showing the Evacuation Alert area can be viewed at www.cordemergency.ca