A wildfire burning north of Oliver has grown once again and is now burning an area larger than 2,270 hectares.
That’s up from around 200 hectares on Monday.
BC Wildfire Service said planned ignitions were successfully conducted on the south side of the blaze on Thursday.
An evacuation alert has also been expanded, now covering an additional 41 properties in the McKinney Creek area.
The Regional District of the Okanagan Similkameen says residents of more than 250 homes have been told to be prepared to leave on a moment’s notice.
The bulk of the fire growth came from a controlled ignition performed by BC Wildfire Service crews on Wednesday, with the goal of burning off fuels between the fire and nearby communities.
Deputy incident commander Scott Rennick told Global News that while the fire had now reached about 1,500 hectares in size, it is burning away from communities.
However, he said drivers in the area have been slowing down to get a look, raising new safety concerns.
“On Highway 97, obviously with the summertime traffic we’re seeing right now and with the helicopter operations being very active, it’s quite exciting for people if they don’t see it regularly, so we’re getting a lot of people that are slowing down or stopping or pulling over,” he said.
“The helicopter pilots are actually reporting seeing below fairly near misses on the highway. So we’re encouraging the public to please — it’s quite the show, but please continue through and if you’re going to pull over, pull over somewhere safe, but don’t slow down on the highway.”
The BC Wildfire Service has deployed 104 personnel and 13 helicopters and a complement of fixed-wing aircraft to fight the fire, along with five pieces of heavy equipment.
Sprinklers and structural protection units were also on-site Thursday to protect homes.
Rennick said crews have been challenged to attack the fire where it is most active.
“We’re looking at cliff edges the fire has worked its way into, so it’s really inoperable and really dangerous to get our staff into,” he said. “So we’re focusing all of our effort on the west side, which is impact to the communities, and then a larger fire perimeter to basically bring the fire to where we can operate on it.”
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The Okanagan Correctional Centre, a provincially operated jail, is also within the evacuation alert zone, and the union representing jail guards said about 100 high-risk prisoners were moved out of the facility on Tuesday evening. An estimated 200 inmates remained on the site as of Wednesday.
Tourism operators in the area are also trying to get the word out that their businesses in Oliver, Osoyoos and Okanagan Falls are not threatened by the fire, which is burning in the hills above.