Over 500 evacuated Osoyoos residents got to go home on Monday thanks to the efforts of B.C. Wildfire Service crews and local firefighters battling the Eagle Bluff Wildfire.
Currently, only 192 properties remain under order, down from 732 which were initially evacuated on July 29. Those previously under order will be under alert. There are now a total of 2,635 properties under alert.
The properties remaining under evacuation order include the Osoyoos Industrial Park in the Town of Osoyoos, all properties south of Highway 3 from the Town of Osoyoos boundaries to Nighhawk Road in Electoral Area “B” (Rural Osoyoos), Parts of Electoral Areas “A” (Cawston) and “B” including the Kilpoola and Spotted Lake areas south of Highway 3
Residents in the Pinehurst neighbourhood were allowed to go back home and got to see first hand how close the fire came to wiping out their properties.
Several residents commented about how grateful they are to the fire crews for saving their homes, including Claudia Ryan Wood.
“It’s good to be home,” she said.
As of Monday, July 31, the fire had swelled to over 1,450 hectares following its burst up across the border on Saturday night.
Shaelee Stearns of the BC Wildfire Service said at the briefing that the fire grew to more than 14 square kilometres on the Canadian side, while authorities in Washington have said it measures more than 40 square kilometres on the U.S. side.
Stearns said 61 B.C. firefighting personnel, including night crews, are working to control the blaze, focusing on the eastern flank of the fire, “which is the side of the fire that’s closer in proximity to the city.”
Heavy equipment, structural protection crews and aerial resources are also working on the fire.
BC Wildfire Service is expecting to continue to see dry conditions, including a south-west flow of wind, however during the briefing to the public, they did note that because of the terrain, the direction of the wind is not consistent across the entire fire and capable of changing through the day.
Stearns said “good progress” has been made in combating the fire so far, but no rainfall is expected this week.
“We’re still looking at drier weather, hotter and dry weather for the rest of the week here and it’s something that we’ll continue to kind of monitor,” she said.
The western front of the fire has been showing a large amount of activity, and on the eastern front the winds blew the fire back onto ground that had already been scorched by the fire.
South across the border the fire has grown to over 4,100 hectares burned as of July 31, with four structures lost and 250 personnel on scene, according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
An incident management team from the BC Wildfire Service will be arriving to take over the fire from the Kamloops Fire Centre on Aug. 1. The BC Wildfire camp has been set up at in Okanagan Falls.
The town of Osoyoos has a population of about 5,000, but that is swollen in summer by visitors who come to enjoy the town’s lake and surroundings.
They included Vancouver real estate agent Walter Wells, who arrived at the Watermark Beach Resort with his wife on Friday, to celebrate their 25th anniversary. He said they thought the nearby fire might cause smoky skies, but didn’t foresee the terrifying night that unfolded Saturday.
“On the southernmost part of the hills, we saw, to our horror, a massive line of orange fire was cresting the hill. We couldn’t believe it and it was just massive,” he said in an interview Monday.
“We could see trees almost exploding. It would just catch a big tree and it would just burst up in flames.”
He said an emergency alert came through their phones around 11 p.m. Saturday and their hotel told them to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
“We were on alert, but we were extremely close to the fire and we were truly scared,” he said. “It’s one thing to watch it on TV, but the mountain was on fire right above us.”
He said he and his wife decided it wasn’t safe to leave Saturday, but on Sunday they packed up and left on a four-hour drive north to Wells’s brother’s cabin. By the time they left, the smoke in Osoyoos was “the most vile thing I’ve ever smelled … We just couldn’t take it anymore.”
“We’re lucky to be alive,” he said, adding that he was impressed by the speed at which firefighting efforts were mobilized.
“God bless those guys because I don’t know how a human being could fight that fire.”
With files from the Canadian Press
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