In what was a frantic Friday night, hundreds of homes in the Central Okanagan were placed on evacuation order while thousands in Vernon were placed on evacuation alert because of the nearby White Rock Lake wildfire.
The out-of-control blaze that’s burning perilously close to the northwestern shore of Okanagan Lake is now estimated at 55,000 hectares.
That’s up considerably from Thursday when the three-week-old blaze was sized at around 32,500 hectares.
The fire had been estimated at that size for a few days, however, incoming winds which blew away thick smoke that had been choking the Okanagan sparked the massive increase.
According to the BC Wildfire Service, southwesterly winds were gusting upwards of 40 to 50 km/h, creating Rank 4 and 5 conditions that challenged firefighting efforts.
The province ranks fires on a 1-to-6 scale, with Rank 1 being a smouldering ground fire and Rank 6 being “a blowup or conflagration.”
A Rank 4 fire is described as being a “highly vigorous surface fire with torching, or passive crown fire.”
A Rank 5 fire is described as an “extremely vigorous surface fire or active crown fire.”
The fire — which began well south of the small Highway 97 community of Westwold, but grew north and east — had spawned previous evacuation alerts and orders.
Friday morning at 11 a.m., Central Okanagan Emergency Operations (CORE) issued an evacuation order for 608 properties along Westside Road.
The order affected properties from 8525 Ewings Landing Road to 9995 Westside Road, up to the Sugarloaf Forest Service Road turnoff.
Then at 8:41 p.m., CORE expanded that evacuation order to include another 975 properties along Westside Road that had previously been under an evacuation alert.
The affected area runs south from Ewings Landing to the south end of La Casa Lakeside Resort.
Also Friday, the City of Vernon issued an evacuation alert in the afternoon for a handful of communities near the northeastern side of Okanagan Lake.
At 10:43 p.m., that alert was expanded to include most of the city, except for a few neighbourhoods.
The city said it was expanding the alert due to increased fire activity and increased ember debris from the wildfire.
However, on Saturday morning, cool grey skies were present, along with scattered showers in the Central Okanagan.
For Kelowna and Vernon, Environment Canada is calling for a 60 per cent chance of showers, along with a daily high of 24 Celsius, along with an overnight low of 13 C.
Also Saturday morning, BC Wildfire issued an update on the fire.
It said a flank of the fire that was threatening to push northeast towards Spallumcheen on Friday night slowed once it approached the Siwash Creek area. Strong winds also contributed to an increase in fire behaviour in the Whiteman Creek Road area.
“Predominant fire growth over the past 24 hours was along the eastern flank, west of Westside Road,” said BC Wildfire. “This eastern flank is very visible to surrounding communities, and, in certain areas, the fire is approximately 100-250 metres west of Okanagan Lake.”
The provincial agency projects that winds today will be similar to Friday, south/southwest 10-20 km/h with gusts of 25-40 km/h.
It’s also predicting that Isolated showers in the vicinity will provide a slight reprieve through the weekend, However, it says where sustained winds align with terrain features, high spread rates and active fire behaviour is still expected.
“Temperatures tomorrow will dip into the mid-teens with light northwest winds.” said BC Wildfire. “Into next week, a flat upper ridge will begin to build on Monday bringing warm and dry conditions back to the region.”
In related news, the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) announced on Saturday afternoon that it was rescinding an evacuation alert for portions of Electoral Area B, C and the District of Coldstream.
The Alert was implemented due to the White Rock Lake fire.
Properties rescinded from the evacuation alert include:
- Electoral Area B east of Okanagan Lake, including those surrounding Swan Lake
- Electoral Area C south of Spallumcheen, west of Forsberg Road (on Silver Star Road) to the southern boundary of Electoral Area C
- District of Coldstream, from the north boundary to the south boundary, the area west of Coldstream Valley Estates and Grey Road
The RDNO also noted that the evacuation order for properties in Electoral Area B, located on the west side of Okanagan Lake, remains in effect.