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Wildfire near Osoyoos continues to force evacuations for locals, visitors

Last Updated Jul 20, 2021 at 11:16 pm PDT

The Nk'Mip Creek wildfire on July 20, 2021 (Courtesy Regional District of Kootenay Boundary)
Summary

The Nk'Mip Creek wildfire sparked Monday, the rapidly-spreading blaze forcing hundreds out of their homes

Tourists to the popular South Okanagan area were also evacuated, including visitors to wineries

OSOYOOS (NEWS 1130) — A 2,000-hectare wildfire is burning out of control just outside of Osoyoos, continuing to force locals and tourists to evacuate areas of the South Okanagan Tuesday.

The Nk’Mip Creek wildfire sparked Monday, the rapidly-spreading blaze forcing hundreds out of their homes, and the evacuation of tourists from a winery and an RV park. Crews are battling the flames from the ground and the air — with air tankers dropping fire retardant on the west flank of the flames closest to homes.

The Osoyoos Indian Band and the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen declared local states of emergency prior to the province-wide declaration Tuesday afternoon. The entire town of Oliver is on evacuation alert. On Tuesday, the fire is prompted new orders to evacuate in the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, and the neighbouring Regional District of Kootenay-Boundary.

Kayla Bordignon and her family were on the east side of Osoyoos lake at an RV park for their annual camping trip when they made the call to leave the site on the east side of Osoyoos lake.

“We just watched it grow and grow and grow at a rapid pace. It was so incredible to watch and see how quickly it spread,” she says.

“We evacuated at 2:30 in the morning, ahead of the mandatory evacuation, we were in our trailer, it was shaking from the wind, and I looked at my husband and said, ‘Let’s go. It’s not worth risking. We didn’t know what the winds were going to do. You know, it’s so scary to see how quickly wildfire of devastation can happen. Look at Lytton — in minutes it completely was gone. We didn’t want to risk it, we have a young child. It just wasn’t worth the stress and the anxiety of staying.”

Gary Dell lives on the south end of Osoyoos Lake, and has lived in the area for about 70 years. He’s been watching the flames climb the hillside.

“It’s really been quite smoky. Yesterday, you couldn’t see anything for the smoke, looking up towards the fire,” he says.

“It’s a very rugged hillside. The fire is halfway up the little mountain that’s there. I wouldn’t say at the current time that it appears it’s too close, but it was very windy overnight last night. Of course, fire can move a long way in a short time. I think we’re all looking across the hill, hoping that nothing really disastrous happens.”

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On the north end of the lake in Oliver, there are a number of wineries on Black Sage Road.

Kerri Wyse-McNolty, is the VP of Marketing and Hospitality at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, says they evacuated the winery around 1 a.m.

“Search and rescue members came to our property and informed us that we had to leave. So, we started knocking on doors and waking up guests and asking everybody to pack up and vacate the property,” she says.

“It’s kind of just waiting right now. The evacuation order is still in effect, so we have to remain close to guests until that’s lifted. Right now the winery is not really, from what we can tell, in imminent danger. At this point, our staff are safe, our guests are safe.”

She says the valley is filled with vineyards, and neighbouring wine estates are likely in a similar situation.

“They’re probably facing the same thing kind of just waiting at this point to see what happens with the weather and with the firefighting efforts that are underway.”

Laura Kittmer, with Wine BC, says the focus now is on the safety of guests and staff.

“At this time, we continue to work closely with our wineries and tourism partners on providing updates and information on the situation as it evolves. But at this time, as it is evolving, the wineries, their priority right now is that everyone down there is safe and protected.”

Given that fires are burning in more than one region, Kirttmer says any oenophiles planning a trip should check with a winery before visiting.

“I would just encourage all visitors to know before they go. There are nine wine regions across the province of British Columbia, some of these regions are still safe to visit,” she says.

“Just do a little researching before planning that trip, and just make sure that you’re going somewhere that is safe.”