Strong winds that were expected to fuel a wildfire burning south of Penticton, B.C., on Friday failed to do so, fire officials said Saturday.
The 20-square-kilometre Christie Mountain fire did not experience significant growth overnight, and Penticton fire Chief Larry Watkinson said crews and residents are lucky.
“We were very fortunate yesterday with the wind event. Although it was quite vigorous above Penticton and on the hillsides, it was very soft on the fire,” he said at a news conference.
The blaze burned along similar lines as the Garnet fire from 1994, which burned 55-square-kilometres, destroying 18 homes and forcing more than 4,000 residents to flee.
Watkinson said the track allowed the Christie Mountain fire to move quickly, but also meant it had limited fuel sources.
“We feel very confident that the fire is no longer threatening structures adjacent to the fire in the city of Penticton,” he said.
The department has allowed 110 firefighters to return home to their respective communities after battling the blaze, Watkinson added.
However, Dan Taudin-Chabot with the B.C. Wildfire Service said there remain some concerns.
The wind pushing the fire north towards the city has reversed course, allowing the fire to potentially burn new fuel sources, he said.
“Once the cold front passes, the wind shifts 180 and starts going back the other direction,” said Taudin-Chabot. “So now we’re getting winds pushing on the fire in a direction that we haven’t seen yet, so for us it’s really important that we gain and establish control, with the winds now pushing in the other direction, before we make decisions.”
The fire is burning on rocky, sloped terrain, making it hard for ground crews and heavy equipment to tackle.
An evacuation alert in the city of Penticton for more than 3,600 properties remains in effect.
Mayor John Vassilaki praised citizens for allowing fire crews to freely operate, as well as for not stopping their vehicles to look at the fire.
A special weather statement from Environment Canada also warns of the impact of smoke on the area’s air quality over the next few days.
In southeastern B.C., meanwhile, a 30-square-kilometre wildfire burning west of Canal Flats has been moving uphill and away from nearby infrastructure.
Ten properties near that fire remain on an evacuation order.