The First Nation and the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen have declared a state of local emergency because of the now-700-hectare blaze, which broke out at approximately 4 p.m. near Inkameep Road, on the Osoyoos Indian Band Reserve between Oliver and Osoyoos, B.C.
Regional district officials said search and rescue crews were assisting RCMP with tactical evacuations for those in immediate risk, including at least half a dozen homes and a campground in the rural area.
Thick dark smoke and ominous orange skies descended across much of the South Okanagan in the wake of the new wildfire, and the blaze was highly visible from the popular tourism towns of Oliver and Osoyoos.
Residents reported ash falling as far away as Penticton, approximately 40 kilometres from the fire scene.
Witnesses said the fire, burning in mountainous terrain, exploded in size amid hot, dry and windy conditions.
“The Oliver Fire Dept is currently responding to a large fire on Inkameep Rd,” the department wrote on Facebook.
“We are asking people to stay clear of the area.”
The BC Wildfire Service said it was responding to the dynamic situation with ground personnel, air tankers and helicopters.
As of Monday night, the fire was burning out of control, and the cause was unknown.
Aggressive fire behaviour is posing a challenge for fire crews, the fire service said on Twitter.
Evacuees were being told to go to the Legion building in Oliver.
Later, the regional district issued an evacuation order for about 60 properties within Electoral Area C. The entire area is under a state of local emergency.
An evacuation alert was also issued for more than 90 more properties in regional-district territory and another 20 properties within northeast and southeast sections of the town of Oliver.
The district said it’s monitoring the wildfire, which is within the Indian band’s jurisdiction.
FortisBC said it shut off power to 3,000 customers in the area, at the request of first responders. The utility later said that power has been restored for most of those customers.
As of Monday night, there were 299 active fires in the province and 37 wildfires of note, which means they pose a threat to public safety and are highly visible.
Almost one-third of the fires were in the Kamloops region and about 70 per cent of the active wildfires have been sparked by lightning.
– With files from Sean Boynton