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British Columbia ‘There wasn’t any time to think’: B.C. wildfire forces evacuation

A wildfire near Harrison Hot Springs, B.C. has grown to 45 hectares and has prompted the evacuation of two nearby campgrounds.

When Jackie Neugebaur saw towering flames leap from the hills onto a highway next to her campground in British Columbia's Boundary region, she knew she had to run.

"We just grabbed some of our pictures and we just got out of the house," she recalled. "There wasn't any time to think. It just happened that fast."

The owner of Rock Creek Riverside Campground was among hundreds of people who escaped an out-of-control wildfire that broke out Thursday near the junction of highways 3 and 33.

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About 200 campers in Kettle River Provincial Park were rushed out without time to grab their belongings, while nearly 300 homes in the surrounding area were also evacuated.

The aggressive blaze, about 50 kilometres east of Osoyoos, has grown to 25 square kilometres. Officials said Friday that some buildings had been destroyed, but many residents were still waiting to learn whether their homes were lost.

Neugebaur spent a fitful night in her mother-in-law's house before an RCMP officer escorted her back to her property Friday morning. All that remained was a scorched heap of rubble and ash.

"It was complete devastation," she said. "The kids have nothing. We have nothing. We have basically the clothes on our back and some pictures and our computers."

She said her goats, chickens and cat are all safe, but some kittens have gone missing. But her campground was only partially burned and she expects to re-open it.

"I'm feeling more optimistic. I'm just glad everybody's safe," she said. "I just hope not too many other people lost their houses."

Forests Minister Steve Thomson said officials haven't confirmed the type or number of structures that have been lost because smoke continues to billow.

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"It goes back to public safety. There is a very active fire and in terms of getting in and doing the full assessment, they have to keep that in mind as well," he said.

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 told media outside a Kelowna church that has been turned into an evacuation centre.

"The wind was just carrying (the embers) for miles and miles ... I've never seen anything like it."

The Hardys made the difficult decision to let their horses run wild with the hope of saving.

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

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"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."

There are about 168 fires burning across the province, including the Rock Creek fire, which is about five kilometres from the Canada-United States border, said provincial fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek.

The wildfire appears to be human-caused, he said.

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.

It was set off after a small plane crashed in northern Washington state. Crews responding to the blaze discovered the wreckage of the Cessna 182, along with the bodies of the pilot and passenger.

A severe weather watch is in effect across a large part of southern B.C., including the area where the two fires are burning. Residents from the Nicola Valley east to the Kootenays are bracing for high winds, hail and torrential rains.

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