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Thompson-Nicola Regional District says no injuries reported from Monte Lake

City of Kamloops urges those under evacuation alert to be prepared.

UPDATE: 12:15 a.m.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District Board of Directors chair said to his knowledge, there have been no injuries as a result of wildfire activity in the Monte Lake area Thursday night.

Ken Gillis spoke with Castanet at 11:00 p.m. on Thursday.

“I’m happy to tell you that I have not heard of anyone being injured,” Gillis said.

Gillis said earlier Thursday night that he had heard structures in Monte Lake were lost to the fire.

“I haven’t had any official confirmation, but I have heard from a fairly reliable source that buildings have been lost in Monte Lake,” Gillis said, adding the Monte Lake store is confirmed to have been lost.

The TNRD issued an evacuation order for 303 properties in rural Barnhartvale — outside Kamloops city limits — and another 373 properties in the Pritchard area.

A separate evacuation alert has been issued by the TNRD for 117 properties south of Kamloops.

The City of Kamloops has also issued evacuation alerts for the neighbourhoods of Campbell Creek, Barnhartvale and Dallas.

Byron McCorkell, Emergency Operations Centre director for the City of Kamloops, said he has been told by BC Wildfire Service that the fire is about 20 to 22 kilometres away from city limits.

McCorkell told Castanet those who live in a neighbourhood currently under evacuation alert should be thinking about what they will do if an order is given.

He said residents should pack items that are easy to carry like clothing, food, wallets, identification and memorabilia.

“Basically, be ready. And if a call comes, adhere to that call, don’t stay home,” McCorkell said.

He said residents should make sure they stay vigilant for any communication coming to them from the city through the internet and through official media channels.

More information on areas impacted by evacuation orders and alerts can be found on the TNRD and City of Kamloops websites.

UPDATE: 10:56 p.m.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District has issued an evacuation order for 373 properties in the Pritchard area due to the White Rock Lake wildfire.

A map of the area under order can be found on the TNRD evacuation status dashboard, as the regional district website is currently down due to high volume of use.

"If you are in the described area, you must leave immediately," the TNRD said.

The regional district said they recommend evacuees arrange to stay with friends or family if possible, and register with Emergency Support Services.

For those who are unable to stay with friends and family, the TNRD said evacuees should report to the reception centre set up at McArthur Island Sports Centre in Kamloops.

The centre will be open until midnight and will reopen at 9 a.m. Friday.

UPDATE 10:35 p.m.

Those who defied evacuation orders of the White Rock Lake wildfire put first responders at “tremendous risk” Thursday night, said the BC Wildfire Service.

“Efforts were taken away from actively suppressing the wildfire and protecting structures to be redirected towards tactically evacuating those who choose to remain in evacuation order areas,” the agency said in a 10 p.m. update.

Calling the situation “incredibly volatile,” the fire is “displaying extremely vigorous surface and active crown fire.” BCWS reiterated demands that people leave the evacuation zones immediately.

Over the past day, the fire has grown mostly along the northeastern and eastern flanks, as well as minimal growth along the southeast flank. The most southeastern fire perimeter is approximately five kilometres west of Westside Road.

“Aerial resources’ primary focus over the next 48 hours will be to continue to reduce the rate of spread along the active flanks, as well as ensure the safety of ground personnel,” BCWS said.

Structural protection crews are staying on scene overnight, when temperatures are expected to drop into the mid-teens with winds from the west 10-20 km/hr gusting upwards of 30 km/hr.

“Prevailing winds through the night will clear out smoke into the morning. Tomorrow on-site westerly winds 15-25 km/hr gusting upwards of 40 km/hr will sustain through the evening,” BCWS said.

UPDATE 10:10 p.m.

The City of Kamloops has now issued evacuation alerts due to the White Rock Lake wildfire.

The alerts are in place for the neighbourhoods of Campbell Creek, Barnhartvale and Dallas.

“This evacuation alert has been issued to prepare you to evacuate your premises or property should it be found necessary. Residents will be given as much advance notice as possible prior to evacuation; however you may receive limited notice due to changing conditions,” the city said online.

A map of the areas now under alert can be found here.

UPDATE 9:50 p.m.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District has issued a new evacuation order for the White Rock Lake wildfire.

The order is for 303 properties that were previously on alert east of the City of Kamloops in rural Barnhartvale. The TNRD’s website appears to currently be down, but an interactive map of evacuation order areas can be found here.

BC Hydro says the fire has hit one of its transmission structures, knocking out power to 1,350 customers between Monte Lake and Falkland for the night.

“We will need to complete a heli-patrol in the daylight to assess damage,” BC Hydro said in a statement.

The City of Kamloops says it has activated its emergency operations centre to monitor the situation in the event that evacuation alerts in city limits will be required.

A resident of Westwold, within the evacuation zone, sent a photo to Castanet that shows the fire burning brightly on the mountains above Monte Lake. The resident says the fire now appears to be moving east.

UPDATE: 8:53 p.m.

The community of Monte Lake has suffered extensive damage on Thursday, but the exact extent remains unclear as evacuation orders expand toward Kamloops city limits.

The White Rock Lake fire shot north into the community southeast of Kamloops in the late afternoon.

Castanet Kamloops asked Thompson-Nicola Regional District chair Ken Gillis at 8:50 p.m. whether Monte Lake was still standing.

“I don’t know the answer to that, and I haven’t had any official confirmation, but I have heard from a fairly reliable source that buildings have been lost in Monte Lake,” he said, noting the Monte Lake store itself is confirmed to have been lost.

“Everybody’s petrified. I just signed an evacuation order for an extensive area including Robbins Range, Campbell Range, and it looks like to me like most of Barnhartvale Road that goes to the City of Kamloops.”

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone tweeted that he has heard unofficial updates that paint "a dire picture of devastating damage to the area."

This story will be updated as more information is learned.

UPDATE: 7:16 p.m.

The White Rock Lake wildfire is showing "extremely vigorous surface and active crown fire," says BC Wildfire Service.

BC Wildfire personnel and RCMP are on-site tactically evacuating those who have chosen to remain in evacuation orders area in the Monte Lake and Westwold area.

"Tactical evacuations may not always be possible and put first responders at risk. In a volatile wildfire situation such as this one, first responders and other authorized personnel may not be able to reach an evacuated area because of a risk to their own safety or because access routes are blocked," says BCWS.

Earlier this afternoon, the wildfire breached Highway 97 just south of Monte Lake.

Wildfire service is advising residents that have received an evacuation order to leave the area immediately exit south towards Vernon.

UPDATE: 5:44 p.m.

BC Wildfire Service has confirmed the White Rock Lake wildfire burning between Kamloops and Vernon has crossed Highway 97 just south of Monte Lake.

"The southwesterly winds are pushing the fire northeast," said Fire Information Officer, Hannah Swift.

Swift says there are 13 helicopters actively attacking the northeast flank.

An updated size of the blaze is not available at this time.

"The BC Wildfire Service is continuing to respond with aerial resources and structure protection personnel remain ready to defend," the agency said on Facebook.

"The top priority for the BC Wildfire Service is human life and safety. If you have received an Evacuation Order, please leave the area immediately."

Power is also now out to the Monte Lake area, according to BC Hydro.

UPDATE: 5:20 p.m.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructures reports that Highway 97 is closed to traffic in both directions between Salmon River Road and Monte Creek (62-kilometre stretch).

Detours are currently available via Highway 97A, Highway 97B and Highway 1.

At this time there is no estimated time of reopening available.

MoTI says this closure is to help support residents evacuated from their homes due to wildfire activity and to assist wildfire crews that are responding.

"Drivers are reminded to observe posted speed limits and to drive cautiously where there is smoke from wildfires. All of B.C.'s highways are continually being monitored due to the changing wildfire conditions," MoTI reports.

UPDATE: 2:29 p.m.

An aggressive wildfire burning between Kamloops and Vernon appears to have reached structures near Monte Lake.

The White Rock Lake fire is estimated at 32,500 hectares in size and prompted evacuation orders Wednesday night in Monte Lake, Falkland and Westwold.

A Castanet Kamloops reporter driving in the area on Highway 97 just south of Monte Lake saw a building, apparently a home, with its roof on fire at about 2:15 p.m. on Thursday.

This story will be updated when more information becomes known.

UPDATE: 1:50 p.m.

The Okanagan Indian Band has expanded an evacuation alert as it continues to monitor the White Rock Lake wildfire.

Addresses previously ordered to evacuate continue to be on evacuation order.

The expanded alert includes the following areas:

  • Highway 97 and Tonasket Road (southern boundary) to the OKIB IR 1 and Splatsin Salmon River IR 1 boundary (northern boundary), westward to the OKIB Reserve boundary.

Residents should prepare to evacuate if necessary and may receive limited notice due to changing conditions.

See the map below for the evacuation alert area.

UPDATE: 1:30 p.m.

The White Rock Lake wildfire has closed Highway 97 between Falkland and Monte Creek.

Motorists are advised to detour via Highway 97A, Highway 97B and Highway 1.

DriveBC says there is no estimate when the highway may reopen.

Meanwhile, the BC Wildfire Service says expected winds from the southwest began to show up around midday, leading to increased fire behaviour on all fronts.

Windy conditions are expected to continue into the evening.

Improved visibility has helped crews slow the spread of the fire, and the wildfire service says it has steadily been increasing resources on the fire over the past few days.

On the northwest flank, primary efforts are focusing on aerial attack to slow the fire's spread northward along the ridge line between Westwold and Monte Lake.

On the west flank, heavy equipment is being used to deal with a series of fire excursions beyond the fire guard.

To the southwest, BCWS says crews have "had a lot of success" gaining containment off Douglas Lake Road, creating an "anchor" or safe zone to work from.

On the northeast flank, heavy equipment has also been successful in stemming the fire's advance.

The east flank has been the "most active and inoperable" for ground crews, the wildfire service says. Work there is relying on aerial support in heavy forest cover and ground crews are putting their focus on structure protection.

Structure protection crews are pre-staging in Westwold, Falkland, Cedar Hill and on the Okanagan Indian Band reserve. They are supported by wildland interface crews, and they have bulldozers on flatbed trucks able to move in as needed.

UPDATE: 9:45 a.m.

Extreme burning conditions are expected through to the weekend at the White Rock Lake wildfire threatening communities between Vernon and Kamloops.

The BC Wildfire Service says sunny skies, low humidity and elevated winds will increase fire behaviour.

"The public is urged to maintain heightened awareness of the evolving situation over the next 48 hours and should be prepared in advance for a potential evacuation alert or evacuation order," the wildfire service says.

Multiple evacuation orders were issued Wednesday night.

Structure protection personnel are prepared to defend Westwold, Falkland, Cedar Hills, Pinaus Lake, and communities along Westside Road. The structure protection crews will also be patrolling Douglas Lake Road to action any spot fires, as well as maintaining structure protection systems in place.

The structure protection branch consists 125 personnel from 25 fire departments. Personnel are remaining on site overnight to ensure 24-hour coverage.

"However, defending structures from a wildland fire will not be possible in every situation. An assessment of several factors (including risks to firefighters, fire behaviour, and the availability of resources) will dictate the strategies that will be used," the wildfire service says.

Thirteen helicopters are assigned to the fire and will be delivering water to problematic areas today to support ground suppression efforts.

The helicopter fleet includes a Sikorsky 64 SkyCrane helicopter, which has a 2,650-gallon tank that is fillable in less than a minute.

On the northwest and southwest flanks, crews will continue to action hotspots and support construction of fire guards. Heavy machinery is proceeding with direct attack along these flanks.

Crews are supporting these guards with hose lay and a water delivery system and will use direct attack on the fire where possible from Pratt Road to Monte-Camp Road. Danger tree fallers/assessors are assessing hazardous trees and falling them as needed to ensure the safety of firefighting crews and machine operators.

On the northeast flank, crews will continue to protect and secure the guard west of Westwold. Crews and heavy equipment are also working south of Westwold to secure containment from Adelphi Road to Wood Lake. Heavy machinery is also working on building a contingency guard further north of the fire perimeter.

Crews along the southern flank will continue working along Beautiful Road to mop up an excursion south of Salmon River Forest Service Road, east of Salmon Lake. Heavy machinery will continue to work along Mowing Machine Forest Service Road to reinforce the road and extend a control line.

ORIGINAL: 4 a.m.

Firefighters are expecting a challenge today in the battle against the massive White Rock Lake wildfire, burning south of Westwold.

The 32,500-hectare fire prompted a wave of new evacuation orders and alerts on Wednesday night from four regional districts and the Okanagan Indian Band. It has gradually over the past week become one of the most dangerous wildfires in B.C.

Westwold, Monte Lake, Falkland and a larger portion of the OIB reserve were told to leave their homes after a day of increased fire activity and winds expected today.

The forecast is calling for 25 km/h southwesterly winds, gusting upwards of 40 km/h, starting as early as this afternoon.

“Wind gusts are expected to increase fire activity and challenge suppression efforts along the northeast and east flanks,” BCWS said on social media Wednesday night.

Fire officials are urging the public to pay attention to the “evolving situation” over the next 36 hours.

New mapping published by BCWS on Wednesday night shows the north flank of the fire roughly two kilometres from Highway 97 at Westwold. DriveBC is reporting the roadway is still open, but stopping anywhere in the fire zone is prohibited.

On the other side of the fire, the southeast flank was about 8.5 kilometres from Westside Road on Wednesday morning at last estimate. Westside Road is closed through the evacuation zone and police are patrolling.

In the south, crews were being challenged yesterday by rough terrain and a fire burning too hot to attack from the ground, but things stabilized somewhat by the evening. With the change in winds, concern has turned to the northeast.

Structural protection units have been deployed in threatened areas.

Because the fire is straddling regional district boundaries, evacuees are being scattered across the BC Interior. Evacuees from the Falkland and Cedar Hill areas, within the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, are heading to Salmon Arm.

In Monte Lake and Westwold, the Thompson Nicola Regional District is asking evacuees to register in Kamloops. The Okanagan Indian Band is suggesting evacuees to head to the north end of their reserve at Head of the Lake Hall.

The Regional District of North Okanagan is asking evacuees from the rural area placed under order Wednesday night to seek support in Vernon.

The Regional District of the Central Okanagan was the only local government to not issue additional alerts or orders on Wednesday night, but are still in the process of trying to convince a large number of residents staying behind in Westshore Estates to leave.

There are now 136 firefighters (99 from Quebec), 11 helicopters, 43 pieces of heavy equipment and a variety of other support and logistics staff assigned to the fire.

This story will be updated throughout the day.