Instead of a summer breeze wafting through his open window on Sunday night, Michael Walker got the rude awakening of wildfire smoke coming through his Deer Park Estates home, located north of Oliver.
It was around 10 p.m. and Walker said he rushed to the window of his home in Gallagher Lake to see what was happening.
“There is was, the fire was unbelievable and we could see it travelling around the transformer wires,” said Walker. “Trees were candling and it appeared the wind was blowing the flames down the mountain. I am guessing it was maybe 500 feet from (Highway 97). We were praying for daylight so the helicopters would come out and put down some water.”
Walker, who lives directly across from where the Eagle Bluff wildfire was burning the mountainside and has the highway separating his residence from the fire, said when he woke up in the morning it was like a “mushroom cloud” of wildfire smoke was sitting still above the area.
By 2:30 a.m. the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen emergency operations centre issued an evacuation alert for several properties in Area C. The wildfire, now estimated at 120 hectares, will have up to 90 BC Wildfire personnel working on it Monday with air support. Many reports from people living in the area are stating the bulk of fire suppression this morning seems to be concentrated on the other side of the mountain.
Air support will be active today to support ground crews, as required. @FortisBC is currently on site assessing the impact to hydro infrastructure and ensuring safety to ground crews. Smoke is highly visible from surrounding communities, #BCHwy3A and #BCHwy97 #BCWildfire (2/2) pic.twitter.com/HTvfK7BTgx— BC Wildfire Service (@BCGovFireInfo) August 5, 2019
Among the properties is on evacuation alert, with its inhabitants on edge is the South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre for Owls (SORCO). Dale Belvedere, manager, said she was told that those working on the fire are concerned it could jump a creek right at the bottom of the hill and that they should be ready to leave at a moments notice.
Belvedere made the decision to evacuate all the birds on Sunday evening as the flames on the mountainside jumped dramatically around under nightfall.
“It was unbelievable. It puts the fear of god into you. We have a protocol should this ever occur and that is if humans become in jeopardy we have to let all the birds fly off. This was going through my head all night but then volunteers started showing up and getting them caged up properly to be transported,” she said, pausing as a helicopter with a bucket of water flew overhead. “Honestly, this has always been a fear of mine with this property. We have done all we can on the property, cutting branches and raking pine needles up, but there is always that fear. Unfortunately, we are living it right now and we are keeping our fingers crossed.”
The cause of the fire has not been officially determined by BC Wildfire.
“The sight and sound of it was incredible last night. I don’t even know how to explain it. We could see it was difficult terrain they were working on last night and they had to pull out at one point because FortisBC transformers blew up. It was this massive explosion then you could see a big red inferno,” said Belvedere.
While some of the SORCO birds are with volunteers, most of the 30 Burrowing Owls are being transported to the BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops.
Heads Up - Visual Distraction #BCHwy97 - #BCWildfire helicopters currently bucketing water from Vaseux Lake [west of H97] and are crossing the highway to deal with the wildfire [east of H97].— DriveBC TOK (@DriveBC_TOK) August 5, 2019
No stopping on the highway, please. pic.twitter.com/SQhwyIC87M
Walker, who was driving south towards Osoyoos when contacted, said the smoke that sat like a mushroom cloud this morning had been hit with a breeze. Smoke is also wafting in from a wildfire south of the border in Washington State. He said the smoke was so thick it was starting to make the mountains disappear. His biggest concern though is for his neighbour across the highway in Country Pines.
“It looked like they might be in some trouble. There is a lot of pine trees there and manufactured homes that seem to be on high alert because there was a lot of activity in the park when we drove by,” said Walker. “I really hope they get this thing under control, all I can say right now is thank-you firemen for doing your job.”
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