Updated at 4 p.m. Friday with information from Canadian Border Services.
A massive wildfire burning in Washington state, close to the Canadian border, could become a major disaster, according to a U.S. emergency agency.
The Palmer fire is burning less than 10 kilometres from the B.C. border town of Osoyoos, and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says it has authorized funding to mitigate a potential “major disaster.”
On Thursday night, 30 structures had been lost to the wildfire, according to officials, and its size was estimated at 11,191 acres (4,528 hectares).
“FEMA Region 10 deputy administrator Vincent Maykovich determined that the fire threatened to cause such destruction as would constitute a major disaster,” a FEMA press release stated on Friday morning, Aug. 21, having approved federal financial assistance on Thursday evening.
“The fire was zero percent contained and was threatening approximately 375 homes in and around the towns of Loomis, Nighthawk, and Oroville. Level 3 ‘get out’ evacuations were issued,” FEMA stated.
The Palmer wildfire has been exhibiting what incident officials have called extreme fire behaviour since it was spotted on Tuesday, and has reportedly grown to 13,000 acres (approx. 5,300 hectares).
National Guard Black Hawk helicopters began assisting with water drops on Thursday, according to the Washington state Bureau of Land Management.
The ‘get out’ evacuation order affects Wannacut Lake Road (East) from Washburn to Ellemeham Mtn Road.-Toats Coulee Road to Chopaka Road, along the Loomis-Oroville Road.
Jeffrey Bastian, a resident near Palmer Lake, said the evacuation route to the Nighthawk border crossing continues to be challenged by landslides.
“There was one area of rock and debris fall that continues to be an issue for the road to Nighthawk,” Bastian told Global News. “It is about 600 yards (548 metres) north of the Split Rock day-use area on Palmer Lake.
“County crews are regularly clearing falling rock and burn debris that continues to fall down an existing marked slide area. Loomis Oroville Road Northbound is closed at Toats Coulee Rd. Loomis-Oroville Road from Oroville to Nighthawk is closed outside of Oroville. Only locals will be able to use the Nighthawk crossing.”
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) says U.S. residents will be allowed to cross the border if there are no alternate options for safe evacuation.
“If this is the only option, evacuees would only be provided clearance to transit through Canada to another port of entry into the United States to ensure their safety,” CBSA spokesperson Ashley Lemire said. “In the current environment, evacuees would also be expected to adhere to COVID-19 health protocols while transiting.”
The Osoyoos border crossing remains open unless there is imminent threat to the safety of border personnel or structures.
Weather conditions in the Okanagan and in Washington state’s Okanogan County, where the Palmer Fire is located, are forecast to be blustery, causing continuing concern for the blaze crossing into Canada.
While officials in Osoyoos are keeping an eye on the Palmer Fire situation, they don’t believe it will threaten the town.
“It would be winds that are a concern,” Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff told Global News. “We’re keeping a close eye on it, but it’s not an immediate threat.”
“We don’t predict it will be a problem, but we’re certainly getting ready,” McKortoff said.
The Town of Osoyoos Emergency Operations Centre continues to monitor the situation and sent out a notice about the fire on Friday at 4:30 p.m.
“Firefighters working overnight made significant progress conducting burn-out operations in the vicinity of Wannacut Lake and around Palmer Lake lodge. Today crews will focus on mopping-up hot spots and structure protection while reinforcing and improving fire lines,” the Washington state Bureau of Land Management stated.
Level 2 Evacuations (be ready to leave) remain in place for Ellemeham Mtn Road from Ellis Barns Road to Loomis-Oroville Road.
FEMA has committed to reimburse Palmer firefighting costs, as well as $629,681 in mitigation assistance.
A total of 398 personnel including 11 firefighter crews, three helicopters, 24 engines, 11 water tenders and eight dozers have been assigned to the Palmer Fire.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency on Tuesday due to multiple wildfires burning out-of-control in Central and Eastern Washington and on the Olympic Peninsula.