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The Eagle Bluff wildfire continues to burn in the hills after it crossed the Canada-U.S. border from the state of Washington and prompted evacuation orders in Osoyoos, B.C. on July 30.JESSE WINTER/Reuters

A wildfire in Washington State that had crossed the border into British Columbia threatened thousands of properties in and around the popular tourist hot spot of Osoyoos over the weekend, before shifting winds turned it away from the town centre.

The Eagle Bluff fire was first discovered Saturday afternoon in Oroville, Wash. By early evening, strong winds had blown the fire north into B.C.’s South Okanagan, triggering evacuation orders for 732 properties and alerts for 2,094 others. Osoyoos declared a local state of emergency.

People in the town, known for its warm weather, wineries and many outdoor activities, watched as flames advanced over the hills, only to be beaten back by firefighting efforts throughout the night and a fortuitous shift in wind direction.

“We did see that decrease in activity which lasted into this early afternoon,” said Shaelee Stearns, an information officer with the BC Wildfire Service, on Sunday. “There were also contributions from the weather; as the temperature decreases throughout the evening, the relative humidity may increase as well.”

As of Sunday, the Eagle Bluff fire was about nine square kilometres on the Canadian side and 32 square kilometres on the U.S. side. B.C.’s evacuation orders and alerts remained in place, and the fire was still considered out of control. There were no reports of structural damage.

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Walter Wells and his wife arrived in Osoyoos on Friday for a week-long holiday to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Mr. Wells, a Vancouver realtor, said they picked the idyllic South Okanagan town because it seemed to be in the only region of the province that wasn’t burning.

Lounging by the resort pool on Saturday, the couple noticed a large band of high cloud in the distance and soon learned it was smoke from a wildfire in the U.S. As they left their resort for an evening of dinner and dancing, their only concern was whether that smoke might affect local air quality.

“At nine o’clock, the band took a break and we walked down to the beach and were stunned,” Mr. Wells said. “We looked across the lake and it had come over the southernmost hills – it had crested the hills – and there was this dramatic, huge, large line of orange: the flames. It was racing across and, even from that distance, we could see trees almost exploding.”

The evacuation orders and alerts were issued in the following hours, with the couple warned through mobile phone notifications to prepare to leave on short notice.

The BC Wildfire Service deployed several initial attack crews amounting to 20 members who worked the perimeter of the fire overnight and used heavy equipment to construct fire guards, clearing fuel from the fire’s path. Local fire departments assisted with structure protection.

After briefly mulling whether to return home to Vancouver, Mr. Wells and his wife hunkered down and watched the flames from their balcony.

  • Water bombers fly over the Eagle Bluff wildfire, after it crossed the Canada-U.S. border from the state of Washington.JESSE WINTER/Reuters

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“What we were really worried about was if there was an order for the main town and all of a sudden there’s this big traffic jam to get out,” Mr. Wells said, adding that they decided to stay put in the end.

“Around 3 a.m., we got up and went outside and the whole mountain was still glowing, but as we got closer I could tell it was just embers burning. It had already burned the whole mountain.”

By dawn, all that remained was a faint, lingering smoke. About 50 BC Wildfire Service members, 11 pieces of heavy equipment and five helicopters were on the fire Sunday, with members conducting hand-held ignitions to build out the fire guard. Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff expressed her sympathies to residents impacted by the fire, and asked people to stay out of Osoyoos Lake and limit water usage so both could be used for firefighting.

Mr. Wells and his wife, still rattled by the close call, tried to catch up on sleep and slowly returned to thoughts of a winery tour and other holiday plans.

“The most terrifying thing to me was how fast this whole thing happened,” he said. “If the firefighters saved us, God bless them, because I don’t know how it didn’t enter the city.”

The Eagle Bluff wildfire is one of about 350 currently burning across B.C. This year is already the province’s most destructive wildfire season by area burned: As of Sunday, 15,409 square kilometres had burned, surpassing 13,542 square kilometres in 2018.

It has also taken a tragic turn, with two firefighter deaths in B.C. this month, among at least four across Canada. On Saturday, a 25-year-old contract firefighter from Ontario died when the utility task vehicle he was riding rolled over a steep drop on a gravel road as he was responding to the Donnie Creek wildfire near Fort St. John. His name has not yet been released. On July 13, Devyn Gale, 19, died after being struck by a falling tree while she was clearing brush in a remote area near Revelstoke.

In the Northwest Territories, Adam Yeadon, 25, died from injuries sustained while responding to a fire near his hometown of Fort Liard on July 15. And in Alberta, pilot Ryan Gould, 41, died when his helicopter crashed near Haig Lake on July 19.

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