KELOWNA — Officials say they were making progress Friday on a wildfire that was burning out of control east of Kelowna.
The Central Okanagan Regional District says the fire charred just under four kilometres of grass, bush and timber after it broke out Thursday afternoon about 25 kilometres east of the city. Officials said no homes or other structures had been damaged.
Kevin Skrepnek with the BC Wildfire Service said it’s unclear what percentage of the fire was contained on Friday afternoon, but ground and air crews were making progress fighting the blaze despite the challenging, steep terrain.
The blaze was classified mainly as a ground fire with smoke but no significant flames, although weather could worsen conditions, Skrepnek said.
An evacuation order covering 474 properties and affecting about 1,100 people remained in effect in the Joe Rich community.
Emergency Management BC said 264 people from the community had registered at an evacuation centre in Kelowna.
Norm Parks of the Transportation Ministry said Highway 33 remained closed Friday and local detour routes have been established.
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 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 with additional ground and air crews brought in Friday.
The wildfire service says 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.
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