PEACHLAND, B.C. — What began as a small grass fire near a lakeside resort in British Columbia quickly ballooned in size Monday, forcing visitors and staff to flee and destroying at least one home.
The fire was first reported mid-morning near Seclusion Bay Resort, located between Peachland and Kelowna in the Okanagan region, and within a few hours it had grown to about 30 hectares as strong winds fanned the flames.
Ida Sharp, the resort manager, said the facility’s staff and guests managed to make a quick escape to the water just minutes after she reported the fire.
“I just happened to go out my backyard and I looked and I saw the smoke, so we ran up the hill and we saw the fire, so I called the fire department and they said get everybody down to the lake,” said Sharp.
“We’re all evacuated, the police are down here and got everybody out on boats — owners’ boats, guests’ boats, we’re all sitting out here on the lake. Everybody’s confused, you don’t know what to do, you didn’t have time to get anything out, we’re all just sitting out here with nothing.”
At least 21 people were under an evacuation order due to the fire, and the districts of Peachland and West Kelowna declared states of emergency. The main highway running through the communities was closed near the fire.
Fire information officer Jerry Wearing said one home, two garages, a police cruiser and a boat were destroyed.
“This is still a very dangerous fire,” said Wearing. “It’s burning in steep, rocky, difficult ground with dry fuels. This area of the lake and the valley is notorious for dangerous winds that build up in the afternoon.”
Fire crews from Peachland, West Kelowna and the B.C. Forest Service were fighting the fire with the help of an air tanker and five helicopters.
An emergency centre was set up at a local Lions Club hall, and evacuees were asked to register there.
Meanwhile, an evacuation order was lifted Monday after forcing nearly 300 people from their homes in Armstrong, located about 70 kilometres north of Kelowna, because of a large fire at a nearby sawmill.
The fire started in sawdust and stacked logs at the Tolko mill on fire Sunday afternoon. The choking smoke billowing from the fire forced the evacuation of five trailer parks around the mill.
The residents were allowed back around noon on Monday when the evacuation order was downgraded to an alert, and later in the day officials said the fire was under control and all alerts were over.
Tolko spokeswoman Sherri Greeno it would be several days before the mill is operating again.
“We do know that there is structural damage to the sawmill, plywood and co-generation facilities,” said Greeno. “We do have one bulldozer that was destroyed by fire, as well as a portion of the log inventory.”
An adjoining cattle auction business was also damaged.
Fire officials said the blaze was likely caused by spontaneous combustion.
The B.C. Forests Ministry’s website listed six “fires of note” on Monday, including the one in Seclusion Bay.
However, none of the other major fires burning across the province pose a risk to people or buildings.