The Osoyoos community woke this morning to hazy conditions, the smoky skies the product of wildfires in its backyard and in Washington State.

A Special Air Quality statement was issued just before noon for the South Okanagan, including Penticton, Summerland, Naramata, Keremeos, Oliver and Osoyoos.

North of Oliver, a wildfire started late Sunday in rugged terrain almost directly across the valley from McIntyre Bluff along Hwy 97.

“It took off like a bullet,” said Darren Betts, who lives in the area and was alerted to the emergency by a neighbour.

The B.C. Wildfire Service has named it the Eagle Bluff fire and pegged it at 120 hectares as of 9 a.m. Monday.

“We haven’t been able to fully see around the eastern side of the fire, so that could change,” said Hannah Swift, a fire information officer with the BC Wildfire Service.

“It is quite steep and rocky terrain and we are expecting highs around 35 in that area today. That can be challenging for the crews, which is why we have so many personnel responding.”

She added 22 firefighters are on site with an additional 80 expected throughout the day. In addition, a structure protection specialist is also on site.

Six helicopters are tasked to provide air support and Fortis BC personnel are also on site to protect hydro infrastructure in the area.

The helicopters, says DriveBC, could be a “visual distraction” as they bucket water from Vaseux Lake and cross the highway to deal with the wildfire. It asks motorists refrain from stopping on the highway.

It’s unclear what started the fire, although Mr. Betts noted the weather was calm Saturday night and there was no lightning in the area. The fire area is steep and rocky with scattered trees and grass.

The view east from the Desert Court complex. (Natasha Purcell photo)

Washington state fires also to blame

In Washington State, meanwhile, a 5,400-hectare fire west of Spokane is also pushing smoke to the South Okanagan. The lightning-ignited blaze is located eight km SE of Keller, WA.

More than 450 firefighters are reported to be on site. The grass and brush fire is threatening 20 properties.

Further west, more than 80 firefighters are working to contain a 76-acre in wildfire in a “heavy timber” area about five km southwest of Stehekin, WA, which is about 80 km west of Omak at the north end of Lake Chelan.

The fire is reported to be at an elevation above 2,400 metres. Firefighters are working to protect the small resort community and allowing it to push to the east.

According to the online firesmoke.ca service, the hazy skies should clear no later than Wednesday.

In the meantime, the air quality statement notes smoke conditions can change quickly over short distances and can vary considerably hour-by-hour.

“People with pre-existing health conditions, the elderly, pregnant women and infants, children, and sensitive individuals are more likely to experience health effects from smoke exposure,” the statement suggests.

— with files from The Penticton Herald

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