After a harrowing night at the Cathedral Lake Lodge due to the threat of the Crater Creek wildfire, a convoy of 80 people was able to safely evacuate Wednesday morning, Aug. 16.
The convoy was made up of campers and staff at the lodge who had been ordered to shelter in place overnight due to the highly aggressive fire, as it swelled almost 10 times to 10,000 hectares in size.
“Our recommendation is almost always going to be that you leave the area in this instance, it was a bit of a special situation in which the orders came in near nightfall, there was low visibility and there was a potential danger to the road,” said Brittany Seibert, RDOS’ emergency services manager. “We did find out later that there was confirmed debris on the road that was impassable, as well as the fire behaviour that was being witnessed just meant that it was unsafe for people to travel through the routes to safely evacuate.”
The people up at the park were instead gathered together at the lodge in a combined effort by RCMP, BC Wildfire Service, and Lower Similkameen Indian Band members.
Once the roadway was secured, the convoy was led out to meet with RCMP at a checkpoint before continuing on to safety.
Dale Bojahra, wildfire coordination officer with the BCWS, said during an update on Aug. 16 that high winds pushed the Crater Creek and Gillanders Creek fires to quickly grow and merge together.
“We had fire on both sides of the Ashnola Forest Service Road, we had a little bit of rock fall in there as well,” said Bojahra.
BCWS is currently preparing for more potential winds to come overnight.
According to Bojahra, a wind of 13 kmh is enough to double the rate of spread for a wildfire.
Firefighting efforts are currently focusing on the north flank of the blaze to keep it from spreading towards populated areas, as well as in coordination with BC Parks on potential further spread into the Cathedral Park area.
Crews were stationed on the fire overnight, including local departments who provided structural protection teams. There are currently eight BCWS personnel on scene, with heavy equipment and some aerial resources when the smoke and conditions allow.
Bojahra reiterated the issue that the conditions where the fires are burning make conventional ground access for firefighters too dangerous.
Search and rescue efforts were also underway for a hiker in the region.
In addition to the 13 properties in the RDOS ordered to evacuate, 31 properties were ordered to evacuate by the Lower Similkameen Indian Band. Another 74 properties along the Similkameen River are under evacuation alert in the RDOS.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the RDOS could not confirm whether any structures had been damaged or lost to the fire.
The full lists of RDOS evacuation orders and alerts can be found on emergency.rdos.bc.ca.
An Emergency Support Services (ESS) Reception Centre has been activated at the Village of Keremeos Victory Hall at 427 7th Ave.
All residents on evacuation orders are asked to register at the ESS Reception Centre. Residents on evacuation alert or order can call ESS at 250-486-1890 for further information.
People concerned about evacuees are asked to call the RDOS Emergency Operations Centre at 250-490-4225.
Residents on evacuation alerts and orders, or who have been displaced from their homes due to the emergency, are asked self-register for ESS through Evacuee Registration & Assistance (ERA): ess.gov.bc.ca
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