An out-of-control wildfire burning near the city of Cranbrook in southeastern British Columbia has grown to 800 hectares in size, and has destroyed several homes.
The St. Mary’s River fire was first discovered around 1 p.m. on Monday and has grown rapidly due to wind in the area.
The fire is burning about 10 kilometres northeast of Cranbrook, and just east of the Canadian Rockies International Airport.
Officials believe downed powerlines likely started the fire.
As the fire grew on Monday, RCMP and band officials with ʔaq’am (the St. Mary’s Indian Band) went door to door evacuating residents from 52 homes on Kootenay Indian Reserve No. 1.
On Tuesday, ʔaq’am Nasu?kin (cheif) Joe Pierre said six homes in the community had been destroyed.
“We have a lot of people that are displaced right now. Pretty much the entire residential area of the community has been evacuated,” he said.
One evacuee, who gave his name only as Pete, said he barely had time to flee after his brother phoned him about the evacuation order.
“I went and told my neighbours … to gather up everything you can, everyone has to leave and I waited until my neighbour was leaving,” he said.
“The fire was like 50 feet ago, and then lets go, lets go, its burning up, and I just barely got out of there, and I lost everything, my house, my cars, my clothes, I’m sorry but its just hard.”
Evacuation alerts have since been issued for 10 additional homes on reserve and 33 more in the surrounding area and Fort Steele Heritage Town.
On Tuesday, the BC Wildfire Service said there were three initial attack crews and two unit crews battling the fire.
Heavy equipment and structure protection crews were deployed to work overnight to help contain the fire, and helicopters and a skimmer group of aircraft are also working the blaze.
The airport was closed for several hours on Monday, but according to its website, there appeared to be no delays or cancellations Tuesday. Travellers flying into or out of the area are still advised to check with their airlines for up-to-date information.