B.C. wildfire forces evacuations as campers flee without belongings

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The Canadian Press

ROCK CREEK: Hundreds of people have been forced from their homes and a campsite where abandoned vehicles have been burned by an aggressive wildfire in British Columbia’s Boundary region.

The Rock Creek fire just north of the U.S. border, about 50 kilometres east of Osoyoos, grew significantly overnight and covered about 25 square kilometres Friday.

It was sparked Thursday afternoon and within hours forced the evacuation of more than 200 properties.

About 200 campers at the Kettle River Provincial Park were forced to flee without their belongings as highways 3 and 33 were cut off just north of Rock Creek.

An evacuation order has also been issued for 10 properties near another blaze east of Osoyoos. The Sidley Mountain fire has been burning east of Oroville, Wash., and jumped the border Thursday.

Rob and Melanie Hardy were chased from their home in Westbridge, north of Rock Creek, when the flames began to encroach.

“Literally, the tree tops were bursting like bombs and falling down on the top of our house,” Rob Hardy told media outside the Salvation Army Kelowna Community Church, which has been turned into an evacuation centre.

“The wind was just carrying (the embers) for miles and miles. I’ve never experienced, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The Hardys made the difficult decision to let their horses run wild with the hope of saving them and the fear that they may never see them again.

Rob Hardy said he opened a gate and let the animals go down the Trans-Canada trail.

“Oddly enough, they actually went towards the fire at first, (but) I think they were just very confused. Once we got them turned around, they just took off for the river. That’s the last I saw of them.”

Campers who were rushed out the provincial park Thursday evening boarded buses to evacuation centres.

Fire information officer Fanny Bernard said many vehicles, trailers and RVs were left behind.

Bernard could not confirm that the blaze had destroyed homes, but RCMP in the area have said several vehicles, including RVs, at the campground have been burned, along with some nearby residences.

Fire crews were busy with structural protection overnight, Bernard said.

Sixty firefighters are battling the blaze, with support from helicopters and three air tankers.

Bernard said Friday’s weather forecast means the fire situation could become worse.

“Any time there’s lightning cells and thunder cells it’s usually accompanied by a gust of wind, so that would not be good news for fire behaviour,” she said. “However, if this system is accompanied by precipitation, that would be good news.”

A severe weather watch is in effect across a large part of southern B.C., and residents from the Nicola Valley east to the Kootneays are bracing for high winds, large hail and torrential rains.

Lightning from the storm could start new fires and downpours may cause flash floods.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says 13 new wildfires, including the Rock Creek fire, have been reported in the Kamloops Fire Centre since Thursday. (CKFR, Global, The Canadian Press)

 

© 2015 The Canadian Press