A state of emergency has been declared in the City of Kelowna, B.C., and thousands more West Kelowna residents have been ordered to leave their homes in the face of a fast-burning wildfire.
The “very active and unpredictable” McDougall Creek wildfire has now destroyed structures and put more than 2,400 West Kelowna properties under evacuation order, up from about 800 Thursday afternoon, after a frightening night that saw hills surrounding the Okanagan community ablaze.
Spot fires sparked on the east side of Lake Okanagan prompted the declaration of a state of emergency for the City of Kelowna around midnight.
A local state of emergency was already in place in West Kelowna because of the fire that’s threatening suburbs, schools and businesses in the city.
Fire crews are bracing for what the operations director with the BC Wildfire Service predicts will be the most challenging days of the provincial wildfire season.
A further 4,800 West Kelowna properties are under an evacuation alert, with residents told to be ready to flee at short notice, due to the McDougall Creek fire.
An overnight news release from the Central Okanagan Emergency Operation Centre says officials have confirmed some structural loss, and a full assessment of the affected areas will be conducted in the morning.
The fire threat forced the closure of Highway 97 in both directions for 14 kilometres between West Kelowna and Kelowna.
An evacuation order has been issued for the Clifton Road North and McKinley neighbourhoods, as well as for properties surrounding Hidden Lake and Still Pond. Residents along the west side of Glenmore Road from McKinley Beach to John Hindle Road have been put on evacuation alert.
To the west, the rapidly growing Kookipi Creek wildfire has prompted multiple evacuation orders and alerts for Blue Sky Country, Nahatlatch Provincial Park and the surrounding area.
Cliff Chapman, director of operations for the BC Wildfire Service, says the cold front that began sweeping the southern half of the province Thursday is bringing high, unpredictable winds and dry lightning, creating the potential for new fires and growth on those crews are trying to contain.
Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma says the wildfire service has “significant resources” tackling the West Kelowna fire, which is burning just a few kilometres away from the city, but she urges everyone in the region to prepare in case they are ordered to leave.
Of the 374 active fires in the province, 159 of them remain out of control, and more than a dozen of those are either highly visible or a threat to a community.