After a wet spring that saw many of them packed to leave their homes because of flooding, Similkameen Valley residents in the Cawston and Keremeos area were told Tuesday they may be forced to leave again — this time because of wildfire.
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen — on advice of the BC Wildfire Service — has issued a “precautionary evacuation alert” for the two communities located about 30 minutes west of Osoyoos on Hwy. 3 as wildfire rages on Snowy Mountain above them.
The residents of 481 properties south and west of Hwy. 3 between Cawston and the Fas Gas service station west of Keremeos will be allowed to stay in their homes but should be prepared to leave immediately if ordered.
“There is the potential for burning embers to float several kilometres, sparking fires along the valley bottom,” the Regional District explains. “Ash and thick smoke is already visible in the Similkameen due to wildfires in the area.”
“In the event an Evacuation Order is issued, residents may have limited time to leave and should get prepared now.”
The Lower Similkameen Indian Band is also issuing Evacuation Alerts for its band members and residents.
It is the second large scale evacuation alert for the south Similkameen Valley this year. In May, 1250 properties along the Similkameen River were placed on advisory Evacuation Alert due to potential flooding.
The wildfire, located in the Snowy Protected Area about 14 km south of Keremeos, was discovered about two weeks ago and has grown in size to about 6,125 hectares, according to the Wildfire Service.
“Fire behaviour was extremely active (Tuesday); the fire behaviour was wind driven, with sustained 30 km/hr and gusts up to 50 km/hr coming out of the south,” a report from the Wildfire Service reads. “Significant growth occurred on the east and north sides of the fire.”
A smoke column and open flame is visible from the surrounding communities.
The Wildfire Service has tasked 43 firefighters, three helicopters and three pieces of heavy equipment to the blaze, with those numbers expected to double today.
Meanwhile, another fire in the Similkameen continues to burn.
The Placer Mountain fire, 37 kilometres south of Princeton, grew to 1,521 hectares between Monday night and Tuesday afternoon, according to the BC Wildfire Service.
The Cathedral Lakes Lodge remains on evacuation alert.
There were 43 firefighters, three helicopters and three pieces of heavy equipment working on that fire Tuesday.
The Mount Eneas fire between Summerland and Peachland was still considered under control at 1,790 hectares with 62 firefighters working on the blaze.
— with files from the Penticton Herald