White Rock Lake wildfire continues to grow towards Westwold

Click to play video: 'White Rock Lake Fire growing towards Westwold, B.C.'
White Rock Lake Fire growing towards Westwold, B.C.
WATCH: Many residents of the Westwold area are on edge as an out of control wildfire has been growing towards the community over the last few days. The fire surged again on Tuesday afternoon. – Jul 20, 2021

Many residents of the Westwold area were on edge Tuesday as the out-of-control White Rock Lake wildfire continued to grow towards their community.

The fire surged again Tuesday afternoon and residents are concerned they are not seeing enough air support on the blaze.

The core of the unincorporated community along Highway 97, in B.C.’s North Okanagan, is on evacuation alert and rural areas to the south are on evacuation order.

That evacuation order was expanded Monday and again on Tuesday after the blaze moved towards the community.

Estimated to be 3,000 hectares on Monday, the fire had grown by over a thousand hectares to an estimated 4,352 hectares by Tuesday morning.

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“The fire is picking up really fast. The wind has been howling and bringing it up the valley really quickly. [It’s] increasing stress levels really really fast,” said Douglas Lake Road resident Terena Curtis.

Curtis was under an evacuation alert when she spoke to Global News. That has since been upgraded to an evacuation order.

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The area is under a blanket of smoke and Curtis said, on Monday, the ash that was landing was still hot.

Residents have been pulling together to help each other and get animals out of harm’s way.

“The sense of community has been really great. We were up till 3 a.m. the first night, doing trips back and forth down Douglas Lake [Road] going to pick horses up,” Curtis said.

Curtis had 13 horses on her property on Monday but decided to move them further from the fire after the evacuation order area expanded to within a few hundred metres of her house.

Local logging companies have put resources on the fire, but many residents are concerned the blaze is not getting enough air support.

“I think maybe we’ve heard the odd helicopter. There is no air response going on up here, which is stressful for us. It is a hot, fast fire that is being driven by wind and I understand that it is difficult terrain, but it’s just picked up way too fast,” Curtis said.

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Regional district electoral area director Ken Gillis said he has heard similar concerns.

“There has been helicopter support from the outset…but from reports that I heard [Tuesday] morning people who are building the fireguards consider that support to be inadequate at this point,” Gillis said.

The BC Wildfire Service said it did have helicopters on the fire Tuesday, but Monday conditions were “very very smoky” and unsafe for air tankers.

“It was very windy [and] because the valley is steep you can get swirly gusty winds. It is tricky terrain to fly in. If you are going to put an air tanker into that situation they have to be able to get down low enough to apply the retardant, the foam or the water onto the fire in a way that it is going to help,” said fire information officer Mike McCulley.
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Tuesday afternoon, McCulley said the wildfire service did see a window of opportunity to run air tankers, but unfortunately not on the edge of the fire near Westwold

“We are seeing a small window where we are going to try to apply some retardant on the northwest corner near Salmon Lake. This will help us secure some anchor points for our crews, help work the guard lines in a safe manner and help reinforce those,” McCulley said.

“Unfortunately, it is just not viable in the Westwold [and] Douglas Lake Road area simply because visibility is really really poor.”

As the chair of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, which is facing numerous fires, Gillis is keenly aware his community is not the only one in need of protection right now.

“I would just say to the people of Westwold, by all means keep your chin up. We are doing everything we can possibly do to get as much help as possible and we share your pain. I know that that and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee, but we are aware. Nobody is taking this lightly,” Gillis said.

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