Hundreds of homes have been evacuated in B.C.’s interior as wildfires spread due to strong winds.

Windy conditions in British Columbia’s Interior have prompted authorities to order hundreds of properties evacuated and close several highways throughout the Okanagan and surrounding areas Sunday evening as wildfires grew in size.

The City of Armstrong, about 75 kilometres north of Kelowna, issued an evacuation alert for the entire community of roughly 5,000 as the White Rock Lake fire burned about 20 kilometres outside of town. 

Some of the largest and most dangerous fires are burning in the southern Interior in the Kamloops fire centre where most of the new evacuation orders have been issued.

The Okanagan Indian Band near Vernon issued an evacuation order for more than 80 properties Sunday afternoon. Around the same time, the nearby Spallumcheen Township upgraded an evacuation alert for dozens of properties to an evacuation order.

And on Sunday evening, the City of Kamloops issued an evacuation alert for 734 proprieties in several neighbourhoods as the Tremont Creek wildfire grew. The entire town of Merritt, four hours northeast of Vancouver, was also put on evacuation alert due to the Lytton Creek wildfire.

Meantime, the White Rock Lake fire is currently burning out of control and estimated at about 622 square kilometres.

Residents assess damage as wind increases B.C. fire risk. 2:57

The strong winds and heavy smoke grounded air support crews working on the northeast flank of the fire in the Naswhito Creek area. 

Fire information officer Erika Berg says wind gusts reaching up to 60 kilometres per hour saw flames jump containment lines in multiple areas.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District said it would issue an evacuation order for all areas of Cherry Creek south of the Trans Canada Highway, near Kamloops, as well as properties on the south side of the highway in the Tobiano area.

It also issued an evacuation order for 656 properties in the Lower Nicola area north of Merritt due to the Lytton Creek wildfire burning nearby.

Meanwhile, the Central Okanagan Emergency Centre said a new wildfire in West Kelowna — the Mount Law wildfire — has started near Highway 97C. It later declared a state of emergency for the city due to the fast-moving fire.

It also issued an evacuation order for dozens of properties in the immediate area of the fire.

Wildfires burn along the sides of Highway 5, about 60 kilometres south of Merritt B.C. on Sunday August 15, 2021. (David P. Ball)

Early Sunday evening, Highway 5 between Hope and Merritt, just a couple hours drive east of Vancouver, was closed in both directions due to wildfire activity in the area.

The province issued a release Sunday evening warning travellers that highways in B.C.’s Interior could be closed, with limited notice, due to wildfire.¡

Potential for growth

Earlier in the day, Berg called the gusty winds a challenge for firefighters and residents, saying they were fanning the flames of blazes in the southern and Interior regions.

Berg said many of the bigger fires of note grew overnight, including the Tremont Creek fire, which led to the evacuation of the district of Logan Lake and the nearby Highland Valley Copper Mine.

“What we’re anticipating for today is for it to be windy, more windy than yesterday, which will likely result in increased fire activity and potential for growth,” Berg said.

“We did see the winds as forecasted and they did challenge our containment.”

The Tremont Creek wildfire burns near the town of Ashcroft, B.C., on July 16. The blaze prompted the evacuation of the entire district of Logan Lake on Saturday.  (Evan Mitsui)

Berg said there are about 270 active wildfires burning in the province, with a total of just under 7,000 square kilometres of land scorched.

Less than 10 square kilometres of land had burned by this time last year, she said, describing 2020 as a particularly quiet year for wildfires.

Berg said the current burned area is about seven times greater than the 10-year average, which is about 1,770 square kilometres.

The two most active years for the service were 2017, when about 12,000 square kilometres of land charred, and 2018, when about 13,500 square kilometres burned.

Anyone placed under an evacuation order should leave the area immediately. 

Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire. To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

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