After a brief reprieve, British Columbia's wildfire season has flared up again with at least 115 new fires overnight, including one near Kelowna that forced dozens of people to flee to safety as flames quickly swallowed up the adjacent hillside.
The renewed outbreak in B.C. comes amid a particularly active wildfire season across Western Canada, where a long stretch of hot, dry weather has created drought conditions in which a lightning strike can quickly ignite a major fire.
The fire near Kelowna, which is located on Okanagan Lake, about a four-hour drive northeast of Vancouver, was out of control and spreading fast Tuesday afternoon, almost doubling in size to roughly 300 hectares since the morning. As with most of the fires in the province, it was caused by lightning.
Fire officials said 70 properties were ordered evacuated Monday.
Traude Schroeck was out for an evening swim with her grandchildren when she saw the thick forest behind her summer home glow fiery red.
"It was a towering inferno," Ms. Schroeck said in an interview. "I thought the whole mountain, all the way down to the water, was going to be on fire."
When the police knocked on her door less than an hour later telling them to evacuate, she'd already packed up the family's weekend bags and was ready to go, she said.
"We thought we were lucky this year and, before you know it, it's happening," said Ms. Schroeck, who has owned a summer home in the area for the past 20 years.
Residents still remember the summer of 2003, when some 2,500 fires across the province destroyed 334 homes, including more than 200 in Kelowna.
Danielle Erickson, who has watched the current fire near Kelowna from her home across Okanagan Lake, said even the water between her and the flames doesn't ease her fears.
"It doesn't take much to start a fire," she said. "We keep one of those 72-hour bags packed with important documents and the things we need so we can just grab and go."
She said the wind has been carrying embers from treetop to treetop.
"I could see flames shooting out suddenly," she said. "It looked like hell out the window."
Catherine Williams, the emergency support services director for Central Okanagan, praised what she called "the resilience of the people of the Okanagan" in the face of a rapid evacuation.
"This is not our first rodeo," she said.
Most evacuees have found accommodation with relatives and friends, but 13 families have been put up in hotel rooms, Ms. Williams said.
The fire hadn't destroyed any buildings as of Tuesday afternoon.
The BC Wildfire Service said 19 firefighters and four air tankers were fighting the fire, which was moving uphill and away from homes.
The proportion of the province facing drought conditions is increasing, prompting restrictions on how water can be used. This week, the Vancouver area was placed under Stage 3 water restrictions, the second-highest level, which bans sprinklers on already dying lawns and imposes a number of other limits on residents and businesses. Similar measures have been imposed in other communities, including Victoria and Nanaimo.
Much of the province is considered dangerously dry. All of Vancouver Island is in a Level 4 drought, as are the South Coast and the Fraser Valley. The Okanagan is considered at Level 3, or very dry.
Conditions are also precarious in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
In Saskatchewan, fires have burned large areas and forced thousands from their homes, particularly in the community of La Ronge. A total of 674 fires have burned across the province this season, and 95 are still active. Alberta has seen 1,466 fires so far, with 88 currently active.