Wildfires raging east of Osoyoos
Wildfires are raging on both sides of the border to the east of Osoyoos.
A fire just west of Rock Creek has closed Highway 3 in both directions and also closed Highway 33 north of Rock Creek, shutting down the main road connection between Osoyoos and Castlegar.
[Update: The Evacuation Alert for residents on Nine Mile Place, Raven Hill Road and Raven Hill Place east of Osoyoos was rescinded at 3:00 p.m. Sunday.]
[UPDATE: Highway 3 is was opened again early Sunday morning between Osoyoos and Midway. Speeds are limited to 50 km/h and people are advised to watch for debris on the road, according to Drive BC.]
Sidley Mountain fire
A separate fire burned its way into Canada from Washington State on the south of Anarchist Mountain, sending thick clouds of smoke over the mountain and forcing the evacuation of homes. That evacuation order was rescinded Friday afternoon due to reduced fire threat. [UPDATE: As of 11:30 a.m. Saturday, this fire is listed as 100 per cent contained by B.C. Wildfire Service. Crews are continuing to mop up].
Residents of Nine Mile Place, Raven Hill Road and Raven Hill Place remain on evacuation alert due to continued strong winds in the area that may cause fire conditions to be volatile again, the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS) said in a news release issued shortly after 4 p.m. Friday.
There were no homes or structures burned on the Canadian side as a result of this fire, the RDOS said. There have, however, been homes destroyed on the U.S. side.
B.C. Wildfire crews remain at the scene, but the Anarchist Mountain Fire Department is now on standby, the RDOS said in its release.
The Sidley Mountain wildfire now covers about 50 hectares in Canada, but the majority of the fire is still in Washington State, B.C. Wildfire Service said.
Highway 3 is now closed east of the Anarchist Mountain rest area, 15 km east of Osoyoos, due to the Sidley Mountain fire. This is in addition to the closure at Rock Creek. The highway is essentially shut down for travel between Osoyoos and Midway.
This fire is believed to have been caused by lightning.
Firefighting aircraft are supporting ground crews to slow the fire’s spread in grass and open tinder. Firefighters and heavy equipment operators worked overnight and more crews were on site Friday morning, the B.C. Wildfire Service says.
“Good progress has been made to guard the fire on the Canadian side of the border,” the Wildfire Service said Friday morning. “BC Wildfire Service officials are working closely with their counterparts in the United States, who are also responding to the incident.”
As of 3:03 p.m. Friday, the B.C. Wildfire Service said it had 20 firefighters, one helicopter, and two pieces of heavy equipment at the scene.
On Friday morning the RDOS issued an evacuation order for residents of Nine Mile Place on Anarchist Mountain due to the threat of the wildfire. In addition, residents of Raven Hill Road and Raven Hill Place are on evacuation alert for the same fire threat. That order has since been downgraded to an alert.
The wildfire was burning east of Oroville, Wash., and entered Canada, threatening homes located in the Nine Mile Creek area. Anarchist Mountain Fire Department personnel responded along with the B.C. Wildfire Service. The RDOS activated its Emergency Operation Centre to support the event and the operation centre remains active.
Around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the Osoyoos Times observed trees candling and large areas of grassland in flames around the border with strong gusts of wind from the south pushing the flames towards Canada. Helicopters and planes were seen attacking the blaze as it advanced.
The fire danger rating is currently listed as high around Osoyoos and extreme around Rock Creek.
Fires in Washington
Meanwhile, multiple fires were caused along the Oroville-Chesaw road after a plane crashed Thursday morning, with two people believed to be dead. That road was reported to be closed due to the wildfires. Some area residents were receiving evacuation notices.
The crash occurred on Rise Road, just off the Oroville-Chesaw road. As of Friday morning, that fire is said to be contained.
At least five fires have been reported in the Nine Mile, Circle Road and Havillah Road areas. Nine Mile fire evacuees are being handled by the Red Cross at Oroville Elementary School. Incident command is at the high school.
The Nine Mile fire is reported to have destroyed a number of structures and burned more than 3,000 acres. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized federal funds for fighting this fire.
FEMA said in a news release that at the time of Washington State’s request for assistance Thursday night, the fire had destroyed 10 to 12 structures, including primary residences and was immediately threatening 660 homes in and around the communities of Nine Mile Ranches, Old Tressel, Canyon View and Rise Road near Oroville.
Multiple facilities, including roads, bridges, power and natural gas lines, as well as several private businesses were also threatened, FEMA said. More than 400 people were evacuated to a shelter in Oroville.
The FEMA authorization will pay 75 per cent of Washington’s eligible firefighting and life-saving costs, but they do not cover assistance to individuals, homeowners or business owners and also don’t cover infrastructure damage resulting from the fire.
As of 8:45 a.m. Friday, Level 3 evacuation notices were lifted and replaced with Level 1. Power was also restored to the area although there were still some residents without power, according to Okanogan County Emergency Management (OCEM). There were no road closures in the area, but OECM asked that traffic be limited to local residents due to the high volume of first responder equipment and hazardous trees.
Rock Creek Fires
The B.C. Wildfire Service says the fire west of Rock Creek was discovered on Thursday and the cause is still under investigation. The fire was reported at an estimated 2,500 hectares in size as of 3:58 p.m. Friday. A number of evacuation orders have been issued. There are several smaller fires in the area, including one that forced the evacuation of Kettle Valley campground, which is reported to have been severely damaged in the blaze.
The main Rock Creek fire was upgraded Thursday evening to a “fire of note” as it continued to grow. As of 3:58 p.m. Friday, there were 76 firefighters, seven helicopters, three pieces of heavy equipment and two airtankers fighting the fire and other resources were en route to the fire. The fire is listed as an interface fire meaning that structures are threatened. The fire is zero per cent contained.
RDKB is co-ordinating evacuation orders. Information can be found here.
The RDKB says the fire started at approximately 1:00 p.m. Thursday northwest of Rock Creek. The fire spread quickly and in the immediate area, Hulme Creek Road was evacuated. The fire spread quickly north forcing people in the Kettle River Provincial Park to evacuate on foot and the evacuees were tactically evacuated by incident command.
Residents on Christian Valley Road to Fiva Creek were evacuated. Evacuees are directed north, up the Christian Valley Road to Lumby.
Evacuees from Rock Creek to Westbridge are being directed Willow Park Church in Kelowna on Highway 33. Livestock is being received at Rock Creek Fairground.
The RDKB put the number of households evacuated at 330 as of 4 p.m. Friday, with the total number of individuals at the Midway reception centre at 410.
Highway 33 north of Rock Creek to McColloch Road is also closed in both directions (89.4 km).
Organizers of the Pondorosa Arts and Music Festival set for Aug. 21-23 at Rock Creek issued a news release Friday saying it’s too soon to speculate on what the situation will be for the festival.
“However we can confirm that the festival site has not been affected by the forest fire,” said Kia Zahrabi and Kris Hargrave. “The fire is currently reported as travelling north, away from the town of Rock Creek.”
Alternate travel routes
There are no local detours on main roads that bypass the closures on Highways 3 and 33.
Travellers heading between Osoyoos and Castlegar may be able to take much longer routes via Highway 6 east from Vernon, however there are ferry crossing delays. Drive BC reports ferry service interruption from Needles Ferry Dock to Fauquier Ferry Dock (1.1 km). Due to high traffic volume caused by closure of Highway 3, the Needles Ferry is now on shuttle service. The wait is now three to four hours, Drive BC says.
A shorter alternative route requires travel through the United States on Highway 20 from Tonasket, Washington, then Highway 395 to Christina Lake. The Washington State route is several hours shorter, but a passport is required. The Christina Lake Cascade/Laurier border crossing is only open from 8 a.m. to midnight.
Travellers should check for advisories affecting those routes. It is unknown when Highway 3 will reopen, but information can be found at www.drivebc.ca . Information on Washington State highways may be found here.
Many power outages have occurred as a result of the fires affecting Bridesville, Rock Creek, Westbridge, Christian Valley and Beaverdell.
FortisBC says that power was restored Friday morning to 157 customers in Rock Creek. As of noon Friday, power was also restored to 39 customers on Kettle Valley South Road and to 79 customers on Kettle Valley Road. Crews were still assessing the area of Christian Valley-Beaverdell, where 639 customers are affected along Highway 33 from one kilometre north of the intersection with Highway 3. Mount Baldy crews are currently assessing the damage affecting 432 customers in the Bridesville area.
This story will be updated as new information becomes available.