Inmates at the Okanagan Correctional Centre north of Oliver are being transferred to “Mainland facilities” as an evacuation alert continues for properties in the path of what is now a 900-hectare blaze north of Oliver.
“Things did escalate last night to an evacuation alert,” said Alicia Bertrand, Media Liaison for the Centre. “In order to prepare for that alert, we started to transfer some folks just in case we do end up getting the requirement to transfer everybody.
“[It’s] just about an abundance of caution; we started transferring some folks. For now, we’re following advice of the local officials on the ground. We have plans in place and we’ll play it by ear.”
The BC Wildfire Service has recommended an evacuation alert to the Regional District of the Okanagan-Similkameen for Electoral Area ‘C’ and to the Osoyoos Indian Band.
That alert included properties in the Band’s Senkulmen Business Park.
An interactive map provided by the service suggests the fire is within 400 metres of the south end of Enterprise Way and 600 metres of McKinney Road.
The decision to transfer inmates to Mainland facilities is based on a business continuity plan in place for “all of our centres,” said Ms. Bertrand.
“We tend to put [individuals] way out of the fire zone,” she explained. “It’s unlikely that we would go up to Prince George or to Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre, our closest one nearby.
“We would be thinking long-term; evacuation alerts can last more than a week.”
The evacuation alert came to the facility around midnight.
“We had already been considering this on the weekend. As soon as the fire got even remotely close, we started to put plans in place.”
The BC Wildfire Service this morning is estimating the wildfire at 900 hectares, noting the “increase in size is largely due to better mapping [August 06].
“But the fire did see some growth overnight as a result of the topography of the area,” the service said in a briefing note.
Crews involving 80 firefighters will be operating 24 hours a day until further notice and an Incident Management Team (IMT) has been mobilized and was due to be on-site yesterday.
The firefighters, supplemented by helicopters and airtankers, are being challenged by the steep and rocky terrain. Site safety is a priority.
The wildfire, visible from downtown Oliver, brought spectators in the dark to a Gulf/Tim Hortons parking lot on Hwy. 97 north of Oilver.
A trio of Oliver residents — David, SJ and Hailey — were among about a dozen people who had parked their cars for a closer late-night inspection.
“I haven’t seen it this close yet,” explained SJ. “This close, up close.”
Her mother, she said, was evacuated when wildfire in August 2015 last threatened the community, this time in the Testalinden and Wilson Creek areas west of Town.
“The house I grew up in, the one in which she still lives in, is literally across the street from the mountain and she got evacuated because the mountain was on fire.”
Although noting the fire was moving, none of the three was particularly concerned about it spreading into the community.
“I’m more concerned about it heading towards the Rez,” said SJ. “I have close friends who live out there and they’re already packing up their stuff just in case.”
A bigger fear, added Hailey, was utility loss.
“I’m concerned about losing power, if [the fire] hits something,” she said.
Nicole Bonnett, a provincial wildfire information officer, said the service is not expanding the evacuation alert to include properties along Tucelnuit Drive.
“We do have crews at the base of the slope there right now and they’re prepping for some small-scale controlled ignitions a little bit later this morning and early this afternoon,” she said.
“That will be to remove the combustible fuels between the valley bottom and the fire perimeter.”
The fire, designated the Eagle Bluff wildfire by the BC Wildfire Service, was reported late Sunday evening and initially threatened the Gallagher Lake community. It has since moved southeast over the top of the bluff.
The cause is still under investigation. FortisBC, which has high-voltage transmission lines and a substation in the fire zone, has said its equipment is not responsible for the fire.