An aggressive fire that’s forced thousands out of their homes around a now-closed stretch of Highway 97 in the southern Interior has grown to an estimated 550-square kilometres in size, British Columbia’s wildfire service said Saturday.
An update posted to the service’s website on Saturday afternoon says “high spread rates and active fire behaviour” were still expected when sustained winds aligned with certain terrain at the White Rock Lake fire burning between Kamloops and Okanagan Lake.
Recent growth has predominantly been along the eastern flank of the fire, which is highly visible to surrounding communities, and in some areas the wildfire service says it’s burning just 100 to 250 metres from the lake’s western banks.
South and southwesterly winds with gusts up to 40 km/h were expected on Saturday, the service says, with isolated showers bringing a “slight reprieve” through the weekend before hot and dry conditions were forecast to return on Monday.
The White Rock Lake fire has been burning for three weeks and jumped Highway 97 about 40 kilometres southeast of Kamloops on Thursday night before sweeping through Monte Lake, a recreational community with a provincial park nearby.
A map from the Thompson-Nicola Regional District shows evacuation orders and alerts stretching from several neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Kamloops near the fire’s western flank to Chase in the north and Enderby and Vernon in the east.
The map shows most of Vernon, a city of more than 45,000, was on evacuation alert, along with close to 17,000 other people in the neighbouring Coldstream area.
An order issued by the Regional District of Central Okanagan covered more than 2,100 properties on the west side of Okanagan Lake, north of West Kelowna, while residents of more than 800 other properties must be ready to leave on short notice.
The district offered people who were evacuated Friday night from an area along the lakeshore between Ewings Landing and La Casa cottages a one-time, three-hour window on Saturday to return and retrieve vehicles and other essential items.
There were 126 wildland firefighters, 125 structure protection personnel, 13 helicopters and other resources committed to battling the blaze, including more than 40 people who remained on site overnight on Friday, the wildfire service says.
About 290 wildfires are currently burning across B.C. out of a total 1,425 fires sparked since April 1, scorching nearly 6,100 square kilometres. Thirty active blazes are considered either highly visible or pose a potential threat to public safety.
A total of 67 evacuation orders covered 5,650 properties as of the province’s latest update, while residents of nearly 25,000 other properties are on alert due to wildfire.
The latest update to the wildfire service’s seasonal outlook shows rain could help mitigate fire activity for a short while, but more hot, dry weather is in the forecast as the month progresses. There is “potential for big spread events” at those 30 “wildfires of note” when winds gust over 20 km/h, the service says.
This content appears as provided to The Globe by the originating wire service. It has not been edited by Globe staff.