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Firefighters hold South Okanagan wildfire away from homes

Last Updated Jul 20, 2021 at 10:49 am PDT

The Nk'Mip Creek Wildfire forced evacuations in Osoyoos. Kirsten van Hattem

The Nk’Mip Creek Wildfire broke out Monday afternoon north of Osoyoos

An evacuation order has been issued for numerous properties by the Osoyoos Indian Band

The town of Oliver is under an evacuation alert

OSOYOOS (NEWS 1130) — It has been a difficult night for hundreds of people near a growing wildfire in the South Okanagan.

The Nk’Mip Wildfire (formally known as the Inkaneep Creek Wildfire) started late Monday afternoon, and quickly spread in just a few short hours to an estimated 700 hectares.

The sky-high flames and massive plume of smoke were first spotted by the nearby Osoyoos Indian Band around 5 p.m. By that evening, everyone in that community was forced to evacuate.

With the fire burning less than six kilometres north of the community of Osoyoos, some 30 local firefighters sprung into action.

Oliver Fire Chief Rob Graham says his team worked alongside the BC Wildfire Service throughout the night.

Their tireless efforts paid off. As of Tuesday morning, there have been no structures lost.

“There was a potential for two to four structures that could have been lost within the first hour and a half,” Graham said as he described the frantic efforts to protect the homes in his community.

The Nk’Mip Creek wildfire broke out Monday and quickly threatened homes and properties in the Southern Okanagan. Courtesy: Kirsten van Hattem

With wind conditions not in their favour, and the fire burning in challenging terrain, crews were not able to keep the fire from growing. The nearby town of Oliver remains under an evacuation alert. As of Tuesday morning, the wildfire grew to an estimated 1,100 hectares in size.

“There’s nothing we could have done differently that would have changed the size of the fire now,” Graham said.

This is no time to relax, he says, as his team also spent the early hours on Tuesday morning helping people at the Osoyoos Spirit Ridge campground leave the area.

Evacuees are urged to register online with the Emergency Support Services (ESS) Evacuee Registration & Assistance, and stay with family and friends if they can because hotels have limited space.

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Carol Haklander had just visited the campground, and knows many of her friends were forced to leave early Monday morning.

“When the north wind blows, anybody who camps along the lake there would tell you you really need to batten down the hatches. I can’t imagine how quickly that would spark up and just burn anything in its path,” she said of her beloved campsite. “I would hate for that town to turn out like Lytton.”

Haklander is one of many who have been visiting the beloved region in recent weeks to enjoy the famous Okanagan attractions and beauty.

But for firefighters, the tourists are now adding another layer to their concerns. Graham says one of the biggest things his team needs right now is space.

“Everybody wants to see the fire, everybody wants to see what’s going on,” Graham said as more and more tourists and residents alike put themselves at risk trying to get a picture or a view of the fire.

The RCMP has shut down non-emergency road access to the fire as a result, and no unauthorized vehicles will be allowed to enter the area.

“Crews are under a lot of stress,” he said, urging the public to listen when there is direction to leave the area. That doesn’t only mean the area near the fire. Five helicopters from the BC Wildfire Service are using the lake to refill water buckets and need boaters to respect their efforts.

“For people that are vacationing and might be out on the lake enjoying their boating, I know it’s a pain in the a** not to be able to use your boat. But you know what? The sooner we can get these fires taken care of with water and bucket work, the sooner we can enjoy the rest of the summer,” Graham urged.

With files from Lisa Steacy, Tarnjit Parmar and Jonathan Szekeres