PEACHLAND, B.C. — Four houses have been destroyed and more than 1,500 people remain out of their homes in B.C.’s Okanagan as firefighters battle a persistent and voracious forest fire.
Three of the four homes consumed by the fire were occupied. Several other outbuildings were damaged in the blaze that was first reported Sunday afternoon but within hours, threatened the town of Peachland, population 5,200.
Hundreds more people remain on evacuation alert in the community 380 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.
Elsie Lemke, director of emergency operations for the District of Peachland, said officials were in the process of notifying owners about the damage.
No one has been injured.
“Our hearts go out to the property owners who have suffered loss because of this fire,” she said.
A cloud of white smoke hung over Peachland on Monday, drifting above the forested mountainsides to the west of town.
The sky had been clear earlier in the morning, but eventually clouded over. Residents were hopeful for the forecast that predicted rain. On the downside, the wind was picking up with the same strong gusts that swept the blaze down the mountainside and towards the lakeside community.
A steady stream of helicopters flew over Okanagan Lake, filling up with water to drop on the blaze, which by Monday was about two square kilometres in size — unchanged from overnight — and only 50 per cent contained, said Lemke.
Ron Polak noted the increasing winds with worry, wondering if he and his wife would soon be among those forced out of their homes.
“From my house, through the trees, you can see a lot of smoke,” said the 50-year-old carpenter.
“It was a pretty late night for us.”
Polak said he first heard about the fire from a friend who was watching it from across the street.
“He actually phoned and said he was having some fun watching the fire, and then he got a little nervous and a bunch of us went there and got his stuff out of there and got him out,” he said.
“Next thing I knew, we were trying to get back into town to get other people out.”
Polak noted everyone in the Okanagan is respectful of the awesome power of forest fires. The arid region is home to award-winning wineries, but the same dry conditions that make vineyards a success can pose a forest fire hazard during dry summers.
Nine years ago, a late August forest fire around Kelowna, 25 kilometres up the road from Peachland, forced 27,000 people from their homes and eventually destroyed 239 homes.
“Everybody’s pretty conscious (about the fire risk). It’s the reality,” Polak said.
“2003 was a pretty big fire, but that was on the other side of the lake.
“This is more in your backyard.”
Peachland Fire Chief Grant Topham said crews worked furiously through Sunday afternoon and throughout the night and managed to save many, many other homes from the wind-driven blaze.
“It was very hard to slow it down with the wind events and the crews worked hard,” Topham said.