'Connecting the dots': BC Wildfire Service crews working around the clock on containment at Keremeos Creek, ask for patience from evacuees

Keremeos Creek fire grows

UPDATE 9 p.m.

New mapping by the BC Wildfire Service now pegs the Keremeos Creek wildfire at more than 6,800 hectares in size.

Fire information officer Marg Drysdale, assigned to the fire, says an updated mapping of the fire, including planned ignitions over the past couple of days, puts the fire at 6,832 hectares in size.

"The fire is still considered out of control, but we are getting very good progress, very good guards put in place and the crews have done a phenomenal job," Drysdale told Castanet News Monday evening.

"We are getting great progress on that fire."

All evacuation orders and alerts remain in place, but Drysdale says crews are working very hard and very diligently to get people back into their homes as soon as possible.

"But, obviously they will not change those (orders and alerts until it is safe to do so."

There remains 547 properties on evacuation order including the communities of Apex and Olalla.

UPDATE: 3 p.m.

As crews continue to battle the out-of-control Keremeos Creek wildfire, working around the clock to protect homes in evacuated communities, BC Wildfire Service urges everyone to respect evacuation orders and road closures, and to stop "belligerent" activity at check points.

The nearly 6,000 hectare blaze has 547 properties on evacuation order, including the communities of Apex and Olalla, although not all residents have complied.

BCWS information officer Brian Zandberg said containment work is going well, helped along by a lack of wind in recent days, and now it is a matter of "connecting the dots" of containment lines. But with a fire this size in terrain this varied, there is no quick fix.

Residents are understandably eager to get back into homes, and travellers hopeful that Highway 3A will open again soon. Zandberg says they are working on it but safety is the top priority.

Particularly in the Olalla area, weather conditions have seen the fire continue to push down towards the community and the highway.

"We don't have it 100 per cent contained yet. We're getting there. But it's just too early to call that part of the fire contained," Zandberg explained.

"We're hearing people being, in some cases, verbally combative with security at some of the checkpoints, and that's really not helpful," added EOC information officer Erick Thompson.

"We really appreciate people's patience and understand that this is a difficult time ... everything is being done to get people back into their homes as quickly as possible ... showing some patience and some kindness to those people who are simply just doing their jobs is really important, understanding this process can potentially be dangerous if it's not executed properly."

Anyone who is able to leave should do so, and back-and-forth access is only available on specific approved emergency bases.

Helicopters may not be able to bucket properly if people stay in evacuated areas, those individuals may be vulnerable to rolling debris, a phenomenon that this particular fire has demonstrated in recent days, and if people in evacuation zones need to be rescued, that puts more lives at risk in the form of the RCMP and BCWS personnel who go in to get them.

"Please do just comply, please do trust that we are mindful and empathetic with the hardships people are going through and doing everything in our power to get people back into their homes," Zandberg said.

He said he is not aware of anyone who has stayed in their homes being a problem for crews at this time, but that some attempting to leave and return have been "belligerent" and caused a drain on their resources.

While there have been those instances of bad apples, many locals have demonstrated extreme patience for which Area C rural Keremeos director Tim Roberts thanked them.

"People are frustrated and concerned but also really understanding the hard work that's being put in to protect their homes," Roberts said, adding that he and the EOC have been working on approved exceptions for access to certain properties.

"As late as last night, we have an orchard that's pushing hard to get all its fruit off the trees and it's right at the peripheral of the the edge of this evacuation order. So we were able to come to an agreement and process on how they would do evacuations, come up with a reasonable timeline and a permitting process for them to quickly get their crop off. So again, [we ask people to] continue to be patient and let us help them through the process."

On the Apex Mountain flank of the fire, activity has been quiet, but the village is still under evacuation order. Zandberg said that is because a shift in the wind could change everything "at the drop of a hat."

That said, fire crews at Apex have used the relative downtime to create groundbreaking new structure protection plans and are ready should the fire start growing their way.

"In terms of our wildland operations, we are building guards as close to the fire as we can and second and tertiary contingency linings behind those to prevent the fire from ever making a run at Apex Mountain," Zandberg said.

It's a hard-to-reach area, so crews have had to get creative.

"I understand it's novel, in terms of how much apparatus is up there and the water relay systems that have been put together collaboratively up there. The structural protection branch [of BCWS] is asking us to go up there and document what they've done because it's new. This hasn't been done before, and they're quite proud of what they've accomplished up there."

As of Monday, a total of 405 fire personnel from BCWS and crews from all over the province are actioning the fire, along with a wide arsenal of heavy equipment and air support.

Zandberg concluded Monday's press conference by asking the public to be safe on Highway 3A when it does reopen.

"We did hear from our structural protection branch a couple of days ago, before the road closure was put in. They had a couple of real near misses with folks watching the fire and nearly slamming into their fire engines going down the road," Zandberg said.

"We're going to definitely need people to [have their] eyes on the road. And driving good and slow through that area."

Evacuees needing support and residents looking for the latest information on orders and alerts can click here for helpful links and phone numbers. Reception centres are set up in Penticton at Princess Margaret Secondary and in Keremeos at Victory Hall.

Watch the full Emergency Operations Centre/BCWS update for Monday, Aug. 8 below:

Contributed RDOS

UPDATE: 2 p.m.

The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen Emergency Operations Centre and BC Wildfire Service are holding a live video update on the Keremeos Creek wildfire at 2 p.m.

Watch live above.

UPDATE: 9:45 a.m.

The latest update from BC Wildfire Service indicates crews will be continuing the use of planned ignitions to fortify hand guards constructed Sunday.

"Two unit crews will use hand ignitions on approximately 30 hectares to secure a large stretch of ground north of the town of Olalla. Helicopters and an ignition specialist will also be on site," reads the update Monday morning.

"These hand ignitions will bring the fire down to safe, workable ground for crews and are crucial for creating reliable containment. During operations, increased fire activity and smoke may be visible from Olalla and Keremeos."

Weather today will reach a maximum expected temperature of 29 C and a minimum relative humidity of 15 per cent, with winds up to 10 kilometres per hour from the east and southeast.

"This means some containment lines could be challenged, potentially bringing the fire closer to Apex Mountain Resort and into the Olalla Creek drainage. Given forecasted crossover conditions, crews will be monitoring the weather for all work locations."

A new perimeter will be flown later in the day, but the current size estimate is listed at 5,903 hectares.

245 wildland firefighters are assigned to this fire working with an additional 160 structural protection personnel from fire departments across BC for a total of 405 firefighters.

The Keremeos Creek wildfire has been burning since July 29. Apex Mountain Village and Olalla remain under evacuation order, as well as many adjacent rural properties, and more than 1,000 properties are on alert.

For a full list and to find out about emergency support for evacuees, click here.

ORIGINAL: 6:30 a.m.

Controlled burns were used Sunday in a bid to rein in the Keremeos Creek wildfire southwest of Penticton.

"The fire size is going to grow because we're bringing fire to our control lines," fire information officer Mikhail Elsay said.

Crews planned the ignitions to fortify hand guard constructed Saturday.

Hand ignitions on about 30 hectares were used to secure a large stretch of ground north of Olalla and bring the fire down to safe, workable ground for crews.

Hand ignitions were also planned on the northeastern corner of the fire, from the end of Sheep Creek Road.

Crews are assigned to hold the fire to the north of the Highway 3A corridor.

The fire is currently 5,903 hectares in size.

On the western flank, crews continued a direct attack from Green Mountain Road to Keremeos Creek Forest Service Road. Heavy equipment continues to be used to establish contingency lines from Apex Mountain over Dividend Mountain to south Keremeos Creek.

On the eastern flank, containment lines continue to be established in the northeast quadrant. Crews continue to construct line around Hedges Butte towards McKay Creek as well as building fuel free and hand guard from McKay Creek towards Green Mountain Road.

BCWS Structure Protection Branch continues to assign crews to put in sprinkler systems to protect properties in the northeast quadrant along Green Mountain Road.

Night operations continue with both wildland and structural crews patrolling, mopping up where and as needed.

More than 500 properties are under an evacuation order, while more than 1,000 more are under an evacuation alert.

Hot, dry weather will continue to increase fire activity, the BC Wildfire Service says, but calmer wind conditions should help firefighters with their efforts.

"The evenings are much more stable over the last couple of days," Elsay said Sunday.

– with files from The Canadian Press

Small wildfire southwest of Ashcroft now being held, BCWS says

Fire near Ashcroft now held

A small wildfire that was discovered on Saturday burning southwest of Ashcroft is now being held, according to the BC Wildfire Service.

The blaze, located about 10 kilometres away from Ashcroft near Minaberriet Creek, was estimated to be just over six hectares in size.

Taylor Colman, fire information officer, said there are about five BCWS firefighters and a contract crew working at the site of the wildfire on Monday morning.

When the fire was discovered on Saturday, helicopters and tankers could be seen assisting ground crews to fight the blaze.

According to the BCWS’ website, the wildfire is suspected to have been caused by a person.

A second spot fire that was discovered on Sunday burning west of Ashcroft near Lone Tree Creek was declared out on Monday morning.

BCWS fire crews continue to mop up perimeter of Watching Creek wildfire

Mop up work at Watching

BC Wildfire Service crews battling the Watching Creek wildfire continue to mop up on all sides of the blaze as fire activity remained low over the weekend.

The wildfire is burning northwest of Kamloops, estimated to be 270 hectares in size. The blaze hasn't seen any measurable growth since early last week.

In a Monday morning update, BCWS said ground crews are progressing well on mop up, which involves setting up a water delivery system to the fire perimeter, hosing down areas of heat and using hand tools to break up burning materials.

“This mop up is reinforcing the machine guard that was completed by heavy equipment,” BCWS said.

BCWS said helicopters with buckets have been working throughout the weekend to cool the fire, and will continue that work on Monday.

According to BCWS, wildfire activity remained low on the weekend, but there is potential for increased fire behaviour as temperatures expected to rise in the coming week.

As of Monday morning, there are 78 firefighters, five helicopters and two pieces of heavy equipment working at the Watching Creek wildfire, the perimeter of which is about nine kilometres north of Kamloops city limits at Tranquille.

The fire was first discovered on July 29, and is believed to have been caused by lightning.

Structure protection work underway in Sparwood with wildfire burning nearby

Protecting Sparwood homes

BC Wildfire Service crews will be setting up structure protection equipment in Sparwood on Monday as an out-of-control wildfire burns about five kilometres away from the town.

The Cummings Creek fire covers an estimated 43 hectares, burning aggressively in steep, inoperable terrain just west of the community.

In an update posted online on Monday morning, BCWS officials warned Sparwood residents about structure-protection work about to get underway.

“Residents of Sparwood might see an influx of fire apparatus, structure protection unit trailers and personnel today,” the update said.

“Most of these individuals will be structure protection personnel that will be triaging and assessing properties in the Sparwood area.”

According to the BCWS, the work is being done proactively. A structure-protection specialist from the agency is working with the Sparwood fire chief.

“Currently, the community of Sparwood is not imminently threatened, however we want to give our structure protection personnel ample time to deploy structure protection apparatus in the event of the fire progressing closer to the community of Sparwood,” the update said.

Sparwood is a community of about 3,500 people near the Alberta border, east of Cranbrook and north of Fernie.

Nohomin fire continues to burn in Stein Valley, stable on other flanks

Nohomin fire mostly stable

The Nohomin Creek wildfire northwest of Lytton, on the west side of the Fraser River, continues to see active fire behaviour in the Stein Valley.

As of Sunday, the BC Wildfire Service said the fire is estimated to have burned 3,745.7 hectares.

"There will continue to be active fire behaviour in the Stein Valley Nlaka'pamux Heritage Park. In this area, the fire is burning on steep cliffs, and rocky terrain ground crews cannot access," the wildfire service said.

The fire's south, northeast, and east flanks remain stable, with no active fire behaviour.

Fire perimeter hasn't grown since Aug. 3 at Maria Creek wildfire west of Cache Creek

No growth in Maria fire

The Maria Creek wildfire west of Cache Creek, near Pavilion, continues to burn in old cut blocks, where fuels are patchy and disorganized.

In a Sunday update, the BC Wildfire Service said there has been no growth in the fire's perimeters since Aug. 3.

The fire has burned an estimated 1,004 hectares.

Heavy equipment has established access to the fire and work is now focused on building containment lines by connecting existing roads and cut blocks.

Ground crews are establishing hose lays around the perimeter, and guard lines have been completed around 75% of the perimeter, the wildfire service says.

A total of 98 firefighters are assigned to the blaze, supported by two helicopters and 18 pieces of heavy equipment.

Smoke from the Keremeos Creek wildfire expected to drift into the Central/North Okanagan

The smoke is here

UPDATE: 6:55 p.m.

Smoke from the Keremeos Creek wildfire has begun to make its way into parts of the Okanagan.

Smoke is visible throughout the City of West Kelowna according to a resident living along Shannon Lake.

The forecasted Air Quality Health Index for the Central Okanagan and North Okanagan remains at a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Environment Canada has yet to issue a smoke advisory.

People with heart and lung conditions are most affected by air pollution.

ORIGINAL: 3 p.m.

Smoke from the Keremeos Creek wildfire is expected to drift into the Kelowna and Vernon areas tonight.

The forecasted Air Quality Health Index for the Central Okanagan and North Okanagan is 2 on a scale of 1 to 10, but 7+ when smoke is factored in.

“The models we’re looking at are showing there will be a wind shift later this afternoon to this evening from light northerly to southerly winds. So, that will bring some smoke from the Keremeos Creek wildfire,” said meteorologist Johnson Zhong.

“It won’t be too, too severe, I would say. It’s probably just local smoke for tonight up to tomorrow morning,” he adds.

The firesmoke.ca forecast is also showing heavier smoke drifting up from the South Okanagan, starting around 4 p.m. in the Kelowna area. It's expected to mostly dissipate by Monday afternoon.

Along with the Keremeos Creek wildfire, there are a number of blazes burning in Washington and Oregon that are sending smoke into the B.C. Southern Interior.

Air Quality Health Index readings over 7 are considered "high risk."

The elderly, young children and people with respiratory or other serious health conditions should take it easy, including reducing or rescheduling strenuous activity. The general population is advised to reduce or reschedule strenuous activities if they experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation.

New reception centre open in Keremeos as fire crews dealt with 'spotting' north of Olalla

Fire reception centre open

UPDATE: 5:10 p.m.

As crews continue to fight the Keremeos Creek wildfire, the BC Wildfire Service has taken to social media to share all that goes into attacking a wildfire.

"Crew operations are one of the largest parts of the firefighting effort. In this video, a BC Wildfire Service squad boss explains a day in the life of a unit crew on the Keremeos Creek wildfire," the Facebook post said.

Reece Kowalski is a member of the B.C. Wildfire Service.

Kowalski says his day starts just after 4 a.m.

"We hit up the warehouse and get any kind of equipment we need for the day and then we head out to the line. Usually we are on the line at about 6: 30 a.m."

Crews are back at camp after a full day on the line just after 9 p.m.

UPDATE 3:35 p.m.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen Emergency Operations Centre says there are no changes to evacuation orders or alerts related to the Keremeos Creek wildfire.

Evacuation orders are in effect for 547 properties in the Village of Keremeos and RDOS Electoral Area “G” and Electoral Area “I”. Evacuation alerts are in effect for 1,050 properties. All the affected properties can be found on this interactive map.

The RDOS, in conjunction with the Village of Keremeos, has temporarily opened an Emergency Support Services (ESS) reception centre in the Keremeos Victory Hall at 427 Seventh Ave.

The centre will be open on Sunday until 5 p.m. The hours for Monday have not been established yet.

The City of Penticton ESS reception centre at Princess Margaret Secondary School is closed on Sunday but will reopen Monday, Aug. 8 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The school is located at 120 Green Ave.

According to RDOS, as of 2 p.m. on Saturday, 606 people had registered through ESS.

Here’s how to contact Emergency Support Services:

RDOS Emergency Support Services (ESS): 250-486-1890

ESS Registration & Assistance (ERA): ess.gov.bc.ca

Highway 3A remains closed between Upper Bench Rd and the junction of Hwy 97 (Kaleden Junction) due to the fire.

ORIGINAL 10:40 a.m.

Fire crews fighting the large Keremeos Creek wildfire dealt with some growth north of Olalla overnight, but no buildings were impacted by the flames.

The large fire burning north of Keremeos is estimated at 5,903 hectares in size, and more than 540 properties in the area remain under an evacuation order.

In an update Sunday morning, the BC Wildfire Service says crews dealt with “spotting” on the south flank of the fire overnight, north of Olalla. Spotting occurs when embers from the fire are carried by the wind outside the fire perimeter, starting new spot fires.

“[Fire crews] were able to action it and then conduct some hand ignitions to solidify their lines and stalled the fire at the rock bluff north of the village,” the BCWS says. “There has been no fire damage on structures though the overnight period.”

Additionally, crews on the northeast flank of the fire dealt with strong winds in the area overnight, and they continue to build contingency lines Sunday.

There is currently an inversion over the large fire, causing smoky conditions across the area. The inversion is expected to lift later this morning.

“Once lifted, crews will be conducting planned ignitions to fortify hand guard constructed yesterday,” the BCWS says.

“Crews will use hand ignitions on approximately 30 hectares to secure ground north of Olalla. These ignitions are crucial for creating reliable containment and will bring the fire down to safe, workable ground for crews. Increased fire activity and smoke may be visible from Olalla and Keremeos.”

Firefighters will work Sunday to build a fuel-free line from Green Mountain Road to the McKay Creek staging area, while sprinklers are being installed behind properties on Green Mountain Road.

There are now 213 BCWS firefighters working on the fire, along with 168 structural protection firefighters from departments across the province. Structure protection crews are working in the Sheep Creek, Green Mountain, Apex and Olalla areas.

Sixteen helicopters and 42 pieces of heavy equipment are also assigned the blaze.

Watching Creek wildfire near Kamloops continues to see low fire activity, BCWS says

Low fire activity at Watching

Fire activity at the Watching Creek wildfire, which is burning northwest of Kamloops, remained low on Saturday, according to the BC Wildfire Service.

In a Sunday morning update, BCWS said the wildfire, estimated to be 270 hectares in size, continues to display rank 1 behaviour — a smouldering ground fire with no open flames, and a slow rate of spread.

“Crews are progressing well on mop up on all flanks of the fire,” BCWS said.

“Mop up involves establishing water delivery to the edge of the fire, hosing down areas of heat or flame and using hand tools to break up burning materials by moving around and inwards from the fire perimeter.”

BCWS said helicopters with buckets will continue to support crews on Sunday by providing water to cool the fire.

As of Sunday morning, there are 78 firefighters working to attack the Watching Creek wildfire, along with six helicopters and two pieces of heavy equipment.

The wildfire remains classified as out of control. BCWS said warming temperatures could cause an increase in fire behaviour, and smoke may be visible from Kamloops or surrounding communities over the coming days.

Animal rescue organization volunteer hosting close to 70 animals while helping haul out others evacuated from the Keremeos Creek Wildfire

Helping evacuated animals

Casey Richardson

Volunteers with the Animal Lifeline Emergency Response Team Society (ALERT) have been busy helping pets and farm animals evacuate from the Keremeos Creek Wildfire after hundreds of homes were ordered out over the past week.

Riding 4 Life Equine is currently hosting 57 goats, seven horses, one mini horse, a donkey and a pig.

Owner Leann Manuel is working as a volunteer hauler with ALERT to help evacuate farm animals while looking after the other 30 horses in their care at the Feedway Stables.

“My husband and I decided it was really important to get the training with ALERT, become a member. So we could at minimum take care of our own horses if we have to evacuate. Fortunately, we don't have to take care of our own horses this time, they can stay put, but it means we're available to help others,” she said.

Multiple trips have been done to help move the farm animals, orchestrating trucks and trailers and a lot of volunteers.

“My perspective is an experienced horsewoman and volunteer is to kind of show up and assess the owner's stress level, get a quick look at the horses and try to figure out who might load really easily, who might need a lot more support help,” Manuel said, adding from there she will establish a game plan as to who goes in what trailer in what order and how.

“Keeping an eye on all the safety and the pinch points of different handlers and volunteers helping us. Trying to keep the horses calm. We don't want to contribute to a traumatic experience.”

Manuel said they work to create a calm space where it feels like they’ve got all day and “this is no big deal.”

Actual hauls and loading have equalled up to a couple of full days of work for her team.

“There's been just been quite a few trips and quite a few animals…. I need a nap. I hate to say it but I need a nap. It has been a privilege to do this work and support the community that I love,” she said with a hearty laugh.

"We are tenants that Feedway Stables and they are of course graciously hosting all of these animals."

Manuel said that Feedway Owner Johnny Aantjes told her to do whatever they had to in order to help provide space for animals in need.

Those facing evacuation orders and alerts continue to express gratitude for the help from volunteers.

“I've been impressed actually with people in stressful circumstances that I certainly don't envy and how gracious they are, how they let us come in without knowing us. They don't know us at all. We come in to handle their horses. We boss them around a little bit as to how to do it,” Manuel said.

“They are not only grateful but attentive and cooperative and collaborative. And yeah, it's been pretty amazing. I've been pretty impressed by people's resiliency when they're stressed.”

One of the biggest hauls to arrange were all the animals from GottaGoat Farm.

“I think the term ‘goat rodeo’ came up as a joke, but actually, it went pretty smoothly considering the number of animals and the stress of the situation again. Pretty darn smooth to have that many animals cooperate with your intentions, like please get in this small box, this claustrophobic box we need to go now,” Manuel said with a laugh.

Manuel said the evacuation also went smoothly thanks to quick thinking by volunteer haulers, swampers, and the farm owners.

“For folks who have animals and may find themselves in an evacuation alert or order, plan ahead, have a plan. Get educated. Have a plan. Because even if you need assistance, if you have a plan and connect with those sources of assistance, everything just goes much more calmly, smoothly.”

Currently ALERT is in need of donations to help look after all the evacuated animals.

“They are definitely taking donations that will contribute to fuel for haulers, feed for animals and any of the care they need.”

Anyone with concerns about their animals can call 250-809-7152 for assistance in making an evacuation plan.

To make a donation go to ALERT’s website here or e-transfer [email protected]

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