Crews are working to reinforce fire guards and protect structures as the White Rock Lake wildfire continues to threaten the community of Westwold.
The out-of-control fire, discovered Tuesday, July 13, was estimated at more than 7,400 hectares in size Wednesday morning (July 21), nearly doubling in size since Tuesday morning.
Now, more than 70 properties have been evacuated by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District and another 165 properties near Westwold are on alert. The evacuation order and alert borders are now nearing Falkland, touching the Regional District of North Okanagan boundaries.
BC Wildfire Services (BCWS) continue to work with industry partners to build and reinforce fireguard lines and protect infrastructure.
“Significant growth occurred to the northeast throughout the day yesterday,” BCWS said in a Wednesday update, noting the southeast flank was active late into the day and forecasted winds are already being observed.
Residents, however, are worried not enough is being done to combat the blaze.
In an email to Premier John Horgan, Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone and Thompson-Nicola Regional District Director Ken Gillis, an area resident said the affected towns are in “dire need of help.”
“We have minimal B.C. fire crews on site as well as locals and local loggers helping fight this fire,” Ashlynn Kruesel wrote in an email calling for more air support. “But there is only so much that they can do.”
Gillis responded saying he had been advised by the provincial agency that the topography doesn’t allow for air tankers.
“The ground crews are our only hope in trying to contain this fire,” he told the constituent.
BCWS said Wednesday the use of airtankers has been hampered by high winds, heavy smoke and the region’s geography but more ground crews are expected to arrive in the next few days.
“The BC Wildfire Service will continue to re-evaluate the opportunity for airtanker support, and airtankers may be used to apply retardant to the fire if conditions allow.”
As of Wednesday, 19 BCWS firefighters, 11 personnel from local fire departments and RCMP, 22 support staff and a BCWS Incident Management team are assigned to the fire, assisted by the two helicopters, 22 pieces of heavy equipment and one structural protection unit.
The Salmon Lake Resort is closed and is allocated as a Fire Emergency Operations Centre.
“A crew of 135 fire response members will occupy and operate from the resort and battle the White Rock Lake Fire, which is in close proximity,” a statement from the resort reads.
Douglas Lake Road is closed north of the resort and traffic is asked to stay away from the area as much as possible.
According to an update, BCWS said air tankers are inoperable due to high winds, heavy smoke and steep terrain, but more ground crews are expected to arrive in the coming days.
BCWS notes some impacts to the hydro line in the area causing multiple outages due to the smoke.
Power was knocked out for more than 41,000 customers between Lake Country and Revelstoke Sunday, July 17, and BC Hydro spokesman Dag Sherman said this was caused by an issue on the transmission line. While the exact cause has yet to be determined, he said it may have been smoke-related, noting the line is located near the fire.
Sherman said heavy black smoke and debris can cause a trip on the power line.
Crews, however, were quick to restore power to its customers only two hours after the outages hit Vernon, Coldstream, Spallumcheen, Enderby and portions of Salmon Arm.
Those evacuated can find refuge at O’Keefe Ranch, located around 30 minutes from Westwold and just north of Vernon. The historic ranch posted notice on social media July 20 that they would offer space for camping.
TRND says if evacuees can’t stay with friends and family, please report to the Salvation Army Building at 1480 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna for group lodging.
Evacuees can register themselves using the Evacuee Registration & Assistance (ERA) Tool https://ess.gov.bc.ca/ or by calling the Emergency Support Services Info Line at 1-800-585-9559.
The official cause of the fire is still undetermined at this time.