A rapidly spreading wildfire near Oliver grew significantly overnight, and an evacuation alert has been expanded to include more properties.The B.C. Wildfire Service said Thursday that the Eagle Bluff fire grew to 15 square kilometres, more than three times the size of Stanley Park, after it was mapped at nine square kilometres Wednesday and just two square kilometres on Monday.Fire information officer Nicole Bonnett said fire officials had expected the fire, burning about 10 kilometres south of Okanagan Falls, to grow as it is burning in terrain that is difficult for crews to access.The cause of the blaze is still under investigation and the residents of more than 240 properties have been told they may need to leave at a moment’s notice.Officials say crews conducted a successful burn operation south of Gallagher Lake on Wednesday, and they are preparing for another Thursday from Mudd Lake, south towards McKinney Road area, if conditions are favourable.A structure protection specialist is also on site and will be assessing residences in the evacuation alert area, as a precautionary measure in case the conditions change.Bonnett said Thursday that there is wind in the forecast, which could change the direction of the fire. It’s also another hot and dry day in the Okanagan, where temperatures were expected to reach 35 C.“It’s going to be another sweaty, hard day of work for the crews. They pack a lot of gear,” she said.She said more crews are being brought in Thursday in addition to the more than 100 personnel already battling the blaze.Most of the wildfire is spreading east and away from the community, however there are a couple of spots in the Gallagher Lake area where the fire has moved down slope, said Bonnett.Fire officials say the blaze is highly visible from Highway 97 and they are asking drivers to slow down and keep their eyes on the road.More than 240 properties, including residential homes, RV parks, mobile home parks and recreational campsites, remain under an evacuation alert.
The B.C. Wildfire Service says the Eagle Bluff fire, north of Oliver, has grown to 15 square kilometres.
BC WILDFIRE SERVICE
The alert also includes part of the Osoyoo Indian Band reserve and the Okanagan Correctional Centre, which has 378 prison cells. Caroline McAndrews, a spokesperson for B.C. Corrections, said the risk to evacuate the building remains low and they are monitoring the situation. She said they have plans in place for evacuations in response to fires and floods. There are reports many of the prisoners have already been moved, but McAndrews would not confirm that citing security issues. “I can assure you the centre has planned for all eventualities and B.C. Corrections facilities across the province have the capacity to accommodate transfers as necessary. We are unable to confirm any more details due to security protocols,” she said in an email Wednesday. On Wednesday evening, 41 more properties in the McKinney Creek area were put on alert because of potential changes in the weather conditions. Areas under the alert can be found on the website of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.There are dozens of wineries in Oliver and Okanagan Falls, but so far officials say the fire isn’t threatening any vineyards. However, Jackson Triggs is in the region under an evacuation alert.Christine Mavety, an owner of Blue Mountain Winery in Okanagan Falls, said they are not concerned at the moment but they are watching the spread of the fire very closely.She said if it moves closer they will saturate the vineyard with water.“It’s a little nerve wracking because the fire is out of control, but there are constant helicopters flying overhead attacking the fire, so we are hopeful.”Weather in the Okanagan and Similkameen areas is hot, with special weather statements remaining in effect Thursday across the southern Interior calling for temperatures in the mid- to high-30s. Environment and Climate Change Canada says a reprieve from the heat will begin on Friday, but that could be accompanied by thunderstorms.The wildfire danger rating in B.C. has climbed significantly since the weekend, with ratings of high to extreme posted across parts of the lower quarter of the province, much of southern Vancouver Island and the northwest.Meantime, The BC Wildfire Service is urging campers to be more careful after fire officials had to extinguish 32 abandoned campfires over the long weekend in the Kamloops Fire Centre firstname.lastname@example.org-With files from Postmedia and The Canadians Press