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Breaking: Snowy Mountain wildfire jumps Similkameen River

The Snowy Mountain fire near Keremeos continues to rage out of control

UPDATE: 10 p.m.

The Snowy Mountain wildfire has jumped the Similkameen River and is now threatening homes in Cawston.

All four trucks from the Keremeos Volunteer Fire Department are on scene and actioning the fire.

Several properties along Beecroft River Road, near the Similkameen River, appear to be getting ready to evacuate.

Editor Tara Bowie is on scene and reports agriculture water trucks have arrived on scene.

Horse trailers have also arrived to help transport livestock and have been seen leaving the area.

Firefighters have now closed Beecroft River Road to the public and all residents are asked to stay away from the area.

“Due to strong winds coming downslope tonight up to 50 km/hr, fire activity continues to be highly vigorous - the fire has spotted across the Similkameen River to the east side in an oxbow along the riverbank,” writes the BC Wildfire Service.

“The spot is located about one-kilometre south of the end of Beecroft, it is approximately one hectare in size burning in a deciduous fuel type and brush. Crews are responding to right now in conjunction with the Keremeos Fire Department and heavy equipment is en route. More updates will be provided tomorrow.”

Bowie reports trees are candling and winds are heavy in the region.

More to come.

UPDATE 9:34 p.m.

The Snowy Mountain Wildfire is getting uncomfortably close to homes on Wooden Road.

Flames are currently around 1,000 metres away from Logan Petrie’s house, and they advanced toward his property at an alarming rate.

“I’m feeling a little nervous, I’m not going to lie, it could keep me up tonight,” said Petrie, noting that the fire was up in the gulley above the hill when he saw a big plume of smoke and the fire started moving quickly.

“It was just 10 minutes and it was coming down,” he said, adding “Cawston winds aren’t helping.”

Effective at noon on Aug. 2, 2018, the BC Wildfire Service implemented an area restriction order for Crown land in the vicinity of the Snowy Mountain wildfire to protect the public, ensure the safety of firefighting personnel and deter interference with wildfire control activities.

This area restriction order will remain in place until Sept. 15, 2018, or until it is rescinded. The order applies to Crown land within the geographic boundaries shown on the map posted online at:

Under this order and Section 11(2) of the Wildfire Act, a person must not remain in or enter this restricted area without the prior written authorization of an official designated for the purposes of the Wildfire Act, unless the person enters the area only in the course of:

(a) travelling to or from his or her principle residence, that is not under an evacuation order;

(b) travelling to or from leased property for the purposes of accessing a secondary residence or recreational property, that is not under an evacuation order;

(c) travelling as a person acting in an official capacity;

(d) travelling for the purpose of supporting wildfire suppression activities; and,

(e) engaging and/or participating in agricultural activities pertaining to livestock management on private or leased property.

UPDATE: 10:15 a.m.

Eight families are impacted by an evacuation order issued by the Lower Similkameen Indian Band (LSIB) because of the raging Snowy Mountain fire.

Nicole Mack, communication officer for the LSIB, told the Review the fire properties now being evacuated are located on Susap Creek Road Indian Reserve #2 west.

“This is a precautionary measure at this point. The fire breached a fire line in that area and BC Wildfire Service suggested we do an evacuation order on these properties as a precautionary measure,” she said.

An Emergency Operation Centre is open at the LSIB band office just down the road on Highway 3 from where the area is being evacuated.

Evacuees need to report to the band office and emergency services will be provided to them in the way of finding accommodations or other meeting other needs, Mack said.

“I think a lot of these people will stay with other family, but we’re able to help them find accommodations in Penticton and help them with other things,” she said.

Mack said since the fire started July 17 after a lightning storm ripped through the area, LSIB members have been working BC Wildfire Service to patrol the fire.

“BC Wildfire is doing a phenomenal job. We’re in constant contact and working together on this. Everyone is doing a great job,” she said.

Panorama photo taken from Barcelo and Highway 3 Aug. 2. Image: Chris Mathieson

UPDATE: 9:45 a.m.

The BC Wildfire Service has evacuated five homes within the Lower Similkameen Indian Band due to increased fire activity on the Snowy Mountain Fire.

The fire is still pegged at 6,594 hectares in size and is still based on yesterday’s fire perimeter, with an expectation the fire size number will increase today with new mapping and burn off operations.

Fire information officer Claire Allen says the wildfire has certainly seen an increase in activity as the fire starting downhill overnight.

She reports that they had crews from the BC Wildfire Service and the Keremeos Fire Department on the fire overnight.

“They reported to us fairly active fire behaviour overnight. Given the fact we had some unexpected strong and gusty winds coming from the north, it did increase fire behaviour into the morning period as well,” says Allen.

“Due to the active fire activity in the area and our burn-off operations we have recommended an evacuation order for five properties closest to the fire activity.”

The Snowy Mountain Fire did move down the slope overnight, towards the valley bottom, which means the fire is very visible to residents of Cawston, Keremeos and the Lower Similkameen Indian Band.

“Right now our crews are working with helicopter support to conduct burn off operations with hand ignition. That is to remove fuel in front of the fires path as it wants to come downhill,” explains Allen.

“That really helps bring the fire under control on our terms. In order to protect the communities and values being threatened by it.”

Allen says the BC Wildfire Service has 40 firefighters on scene today working with the assistance of helicopters. Three helicopters are assigned to this fire, but nine others are also assigned to the nearby Placer Mountain fire and can be reassigned between the two the fires as needed.

Temperatures are expected to be slightly cooler today, at about 30 C, which will bring some minor relief to firefighters that have been working during this recent heat wave.

She understands that some residents are nervous to see smoke, flames and new fire activity on the valley bottom, but she says crews are monitoring it constantly.

“If there in an area with cell reception/internet access and they are on an evacuation alert, ensure they have their homes, families, livestock, animals prepared to leave at short notice,” says Allen.

“Things can change quickly so we really recommend folks stay on top of information if the Evacuation Order is expanded. You can also check the BC Wildfire Service website.”

While they do not want to discourage residents from calling the *5555 line, she said a call is only required if someone believes it is a new wildfire that the BC Wildfire Service has not seen or responded too yet.

“If they are calling to report existing wildfire behaviour that they can see resources on, we are already aware of it. Given the level of wildfire activity throughout the province, it is best not to tie up that phone line to allow others to report other new wildfires they are seeing. Unless they are confident the fire has not been reported yet.”

This fire is in steep terrain and is inoperable in some areas which poses a safety risk to firefighting personnel.

The objective for today is to strategically place crews in the operable terrain areas, where they will conduct burn-offs on the east flank and in creek draws if safe conditions allow to remove remaining fuel in order to stop the fire’s advance to the valley bottom.

Crews have just begun hand ignition this morning as they work their way down the hill in safe areas.

Structural protection specialists are also continuing their work to protect properties and values with sprinkler and pump systems.


Update 8:20 a.m.

Some resident are reporting seeing spot fires on the valley floor being started from embers and other fire debris falling from the Snowy Mountain fire.

A photo taken of a small spot fire near a hayfield caused by ash and embers falling from the Snowy Mountain Fire. Photo taken the morning of Aug. 2 near Barcelo and Highway 3.(Photo courtesy of Chris Mathieson)

At about 7:30 a.m. Chris Mathieson, of the Grist Mill and Gardens, pulled over near the corner of Barcello and Highway 3, and took a panoramic shot of the fire. In it, a spot fire, started by falling fire debris, can be seen burning in a nearby hayfield.

Fire crews are patrolling day and night for spot fires. Residents are encouraged to fire smart their properties as much as possible, which might mean cutting down tall grass and removing debris from gutters.

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Early rising residents of Keremeos and Cawston woke up to a large plume of smoke coming from the Snowy Mountain fire.

A morning update from BC Wildfire continued to list the size of the fire burning 14 kilometres south of Keremeos at 6,594 hectares in size. Mapping has not been updated since Wed., Aug. 1 at about 2 p.m. The fire is expected to have grown in size.

A photo taken of the Snowy Mountain fire during the night of Aug. 1.(Photo courtesy of Josh Wollman)

“BC Wildfire Service crews worked overnight on the east flank of the fire above Keremeos and Cawston, where they saw continued fire activity in steep terrain and coming down in the creek draws. In some areas, rank 3-4 fire behaviour was reported overnight and continues currently into the morning. This fire activity is very visible to residents of Cawston, Keremeos, and the Lower Similkameen Indian Band. The growth occurred downslope on the east flank on the Highway 3 - Cawston side, approximately 400 - 800 metres downslope,” a release from BC Wildfire stated.

Related: Update: Snowy Mountain fire evac alert expands to ranch land near Keremeos

Additional firefighters are expected to arrive Thursday. BC Wildfire reports 40 firefighters, three helicopters and four pieces of heavy equipment are currently actioning the fire.

Steep terrain in some areas makes fighting the fire in some areas impossible and poses a safety risk to firefighters.

On Thursday, a focus will be stopping the progression of the fire, so it does not reach the valley bottom.

BC Wildfire crews will conduct burn offs on the east flank and in creek draws to remove fuel to stop the fire from advancing downslope towards Cawston and Keremeos.

Structural protection specialists will continue their work to protect properties and values with sprinkler and pump systems.

The Keremeos Volunteer fire department will be working night patrols from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. looking for spot fires as embers, ash and other fire debris continues to fall from the sky.

Related: Keremeos firefighters working night patrols as Snowy Mountain fire rains ash, embers

Temperatures are anticipated to continue to be slightly cooler for the next few days, with a high of approximately 28C Thursday.

At the time of this posting, morning winds were coming from the northwest at a speed up to 20 km/hr, which is pushing toward previously unburned fuels but within the same areas the fire has been in.

Evacuation alerts for 384 property parcels within the Village of Keremeos and 481 properties in the rural Keremeos and Cawston areas are still in effect.

The Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen expanded the evacuation alert to include all Crown Land west of Highway 3 to the U.S. border in Area B, and the Snowy Protected Area on Wednesday night. The alert included an emphasis for ranchers to remove cattle grazing in those areas as fears the fire might rapidly move south might result in the animals inability to get out of its path.

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A photo taken around 5 a.m. Thurs., Aug. 2 of the Snowy Mountain Fire from a home on Newton Road in Cawston. (Patti Hillman photo)