Inside a wildfire: Kelowna-area fire sits at 380 hectares

Flames began shooting up trees around her, ‘I’ve never been this scared in my life’, said Kelowna hiker

UPDATE: 11 a.m.

A drop in wind and cooler temperatures stopped the spread of the Philpott Road wildfire in Joe Rich.

It’s still out of control, however, and measured at approximately 380 hectares in size, said Justine Hunse from the BC Wildfire Service, just after 10 a.m. Friday.

Joe Rich and surrounding area has been evacuated meaning 1,100 residents from nearly 500 homes, have been sent into the care of friends, family and emergency service workers.

Flames are within one kilometre of the closest home and, said Hunse, local fire departments are “working on implementing structural protection measures.”

The struggle with this fire, now that wind isn’t fanning flames, is the topography.

“The Philpott Road fire is burning in heavily timbered forest in steep terrain, which is a challenge for suppression efforts on the ground,” said Hunse, noting that there are 23 BC Wildfire personnel on site working with local fire departments and there are additional resources being mobilized.

Hunse couldn’t say what direction the fire was currently moving, however she said that it started within the Joe Rich Fire Department coverage area and moved into Crown land very quickly.

The cause has yet to be established and is under investigation.

—-

UPDATE: 9:20 a.m.

Area property owner Jeremy Ford said the blaze began as a spot fire along Highway 33. By the time he had called for help, it was already racing through grass and bush into a heavily treed area.

Ford said he ensured his family was safely out and then remained behind to help others.

“I stayed there until the last minute to help out my neighbours because they have got animals,” said Ford, who added he released the animals from a neighbouring barn just as police ordered him to leave.

“So now the animals have got a chance to live and not be cooped up in a pen in the fire. That’s all we can do.”

Cynthia Row said she was running on trails through the hills above Highway 33 when flames began shooting up trees around her, blocking the path and forcing her to bushwhack downhill toward the highway.

She ran into a wall of fire before she reached the safety of the road, but was able to sidestep the flames.

“I was terrified and now I’m just in shock,” she said.

“I’ve never been this scared in my life. I’ve had encounters with bears. I’ve been lost for days. I’ve been in trouble, and I’ve never experienced anything like this. It was frightening.

“I’m very lucky I got out.”

The BC Wildfire Service said the fire was probably caused by human activity.

About two dozen firefighters, two helicopters and two pieces of heavy equipment worked on it Thursday night. More resources were expected to be assigned.

The wildfire service website showed the blaze was one of about 30 sparked over a 24-hour period. Two of those were also suspected of being caused by humans, but most were linked to lightning storms that moved through the area.

The Canadian Press

—-

ORIGINAL: 6:30 a.m.

The Philpott Road fire in Joe Rich is still out of control.

Justine Hunse, from the BC Wildfire Service, said Friday morning that improved conditions overnight have yet to give crews the upper hand and the fire is still estimated to be 380 hectares.

Yesterday afternoon, and well into the evening, we had grounds crews out there to construct a guard,” Hunse said.

They were assisted by multiple air tankers and helicopters working on fire suppression.

“Of course, we have additional resources being mobilized this morning for both ground crews and air support,” she said.

The Central Okanagan Emergency Support Services has estimated that some 1,100 people are out of their homes due to an evacuation of the area and they aren’t likely to be able to return this morning.

“There were no unexpected challenges overnight for firefighters on the Philpott Road wildfire. Cool overnight conditions and minimal wind kept the fire from progressing. Thick smoke in the area is due to the lack of air movement overnight,” reports CORD Friday Morning.

“Crews from Joe Rich, Ellison, Kelowna, Peachland and Lake Country along with ten other fire departments throughout the interior and the BC Wildfire Service monitored the 380-hectare blaze.”

Hunse said there have yet to be any structures damaged in the blaze, however, the nearest home is one kilometre from the fire.

“The local fire departments have been working to establish guards there,” she said.

The Emergency Support Services reception centre set up at the Willow Park Church, 439 Highway 33 West in Kelowna will open at 10 a.m. this morning to help any people affected by the Evacuation Order.

A decision on the possible opening of Highway 33 is expected later this morning.

“For now, it remains closed from the Gallaghers Road intersection on the City of Kelowna to Big White Road. A detour route is available for non-commercial passenger vehicles for those who must travel via McCulloch Road.”

The next update isn’t expected to be ready until around 8:30 a.m.

For more information go to www.cordemergency.ca.

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