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PEACHLAND, B.C.—One millimetre of rain and calmer winds overnight brought a small amount of relief to fire crews and about 1,500 residents who were quickly evacuated from their homes Sunday in the face of a raging wildfire in Peachland, B.C.
Skrepnek said it was unclear if the fire grew overnight, so it’s believed the fire remains at about two square kilometres.
Flames were first spotted Sunday at about 3 p.m. and spread so quickly that residents were given little time to get out of their homes.
Skrepnek couldn’t say how many homes might have been damaged by the fire.
“I don’t know to what extent the damage is,” he said. “I’m very concerned about that.”
“Obviously it’s a very worrying time for everybody and (Monday) we’re hoping to have good news about the containment.”
Like the mayor, thousands of people grabbed their most cherished possessions and fled on a few moments notice.
RCMP officers first spotted the blaze while conducting a speed patrol on the highway. Within a half hour, the first evacuation order was issued as winds of up to 40 kilometres an hour stoked the flames.
By the time darkness fell, about 1,500 people had been ordered to evacuate and about 430 more were preparing to leave as an evacuation alert was extended into the downtown of the community on the west side of Okanagan Lake.
Ashes fell from the sky like snow as helicopters and water bombers picked up water from the lake to try and douse the flames. Chudyk said she could taste the smoke in her mouth, and hours later, the acrid smell still permeated her truck.
It was a restless night for Ron Polak, 50, who lives just a few kilometres from where residents have been evacuated.
“I’m trying to find out if it’s coming our way, because the wind’s picking up,” he said Monday morning.
“It’s a very, very condensed area and I thought, ‘Oh my God’ because there’s tons of houses up there and lots of properties with horses. And if it goes up, it’s going. There would be no way to stop it.”
It started off as a beautiful summer day, with a bright blue sky, said Dave Preston, editor of the Peachland News.
“The wind did pick up. It was blustering quite well, then just a few minutes after three, there was this enormous column of smoke that rose above the mountainside and just within minutes the wind picked up horrendously and the fire just grew and grew right before our eyes,” Preston said as night fell and the helicopters trying to fight the blaze could no longer see well enough to fly.
Police and emergency vehicles were gathering in the neighbourhood preparing to expand the evacuation order. The nearest home being abandoned was only about 500 metres from the home Preston shares with his wife and son.
“We’re dealing with a pretty unpredictable fire,” Holmes said.
“They’ve been changing direction and they’ve been driving a lot of smoke, a lot of flames down towards Highway 97 as well as smoke up onto the 97 Connector.”
Public information officer Bruce Smith, with the emergency operations centre, said darkness made it too difficult to estimate the immediate damage.
“It is seriously uncomforting for the people who have been forced out of their homes,” he said. “Generally I think people are taking it in stride. We’ve had this occur in the past with other fires and evacuations and generally we think people are better prepared now than 10 or 15 years ago because of the experiences we’ve had.
The centre had set up a website at www.cordemergency.cafor residents to get updates.
The mountainous region surrounding Okanagan Lake is home to award winning wineries. But the arid conditions that allow vineyards to prosper also pose a fire hazard in dry summers. Nine years ago in September, a massive fire in and around Kelowna forced the evacuation of more than 27,000 and burned down 239 homes.
With files from Dene Moore and Tamsyn Burgmann