Hundreds of residents in British Columbia's southern Okanagan region are out of their homes, and thousands more must be ready to leave on short notice as a nearby wildfire grows in size.
The blaze broke out Tuesday afternoon on the east side of Skaha Lake southeast of Penticton, B.C., and grew from 250 hectares to about 10 square kilometres in just a few hours.
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen ordered residents of 319 homes in the Heritage Hills area to leave immediately, and the City of Penticton then issued an evacuation alert for nearly 3,700 properties on its southeast side, closest to Skaha Lake.
Fire information officer Nicole Bonnett said 21 firefighters remained on the scene overnight, but efforts to deploy personnel were hindered by difficult terrain.
"The terrain is definitely not all that favourable. It's quite rocky up there. And yesterday that meant that finding safe access points to get the crews in on the ground was proving to be a little bit of a challenge," she said.
Bonnett said the fire is still not contained and considered a rank three fire, meaning flames are coming up from the ground and into trees, a process known as "candling."
She said the cause of the fire is still unknown, but investigators are on the scene.
The regional district has also posted evacuation alerts for 116 properties in the Upper Carmi area east of Penticton and Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park just south of the city.
Boaters are being asked to stay off of Skaha Lake as it is part of the evacuation zone and is being used as a water source to fight the fire. The regional district could not comment about how close fires were to homes in the area.
'It could be here in 10 minutes'
John Skinner, who owns the Painted Rock Winery in the area, said he saw the fire spark up around 2 p.m. on Tuesday and by 4 p.m. was shutting down and sending staff home.
"When you see the wind move so fast — I'm standing there with my staff thinking if the wind changes, it could be here in 10 minutes," he said.
While his business wasn't placed under an evacuation order, he said, he felt it was the right thing to do.
"We had such a wet, cool spring and early summer that there's a lot more greenery around than normal. So, I thought we'd dodged it this year. Apparently not."
Nearly 100 wildfires have ignited in B.C. following a Sunday night thunderstorm and withering heat wave that has gripped the southern part of the province for days.
A separate 18-hectare wildfire is also burning along Highway 33 between Beaverdell and Carmi, and the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary has placed 44 properties on evacuation alert. The wildfire service says the fire was likely sparked by lightning, and it has provided aerial and heavy equipment support to the local fire department.
Hot temperatures forecasted
The regional district had set up a reception centre in Penticton for evacuees, who are being asked to maintain physical distancing on site. Evacuees and residents whose properties are on evacuation alert were being urged to register online, if possible.
In the meantime, heat continued for another day in Penticton with Environment Canada predicting temperatures in the low 30s. The city was among four Okanagan-area communities that set temperature records Tuesday, breaking a 57-year record with a high of 37.5 C. The weather office says the heat should relent Thursday and showers are forecast by Friday.