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BC Wildfire asks for patience as evacuation orders drag on for Keremeos Creek wildfire

Progress being made but ‘belligerent’ evacuees draw down resources: BC Wildfire
Controlled ignitions northwest of Olalla on Sunday, Aug. 7. Control lines are being established. (BC Wildfire)

Olalla is finally looking stable after the Keremeos Creek wildfire was running up hills and pushing down drafts into the community, said BC Wildfire in the press conference on Monday.

It’s cooled off on Green Mountain and Sheep Creek Roads too.

“We are doing a lot of mop up there which is boots on the ground, hands-on work,” said BC Wildfire’s Bryan Zanberg. Residents on Green Mountain and Sheep Creek have been evacuated for the longest amount of time since the fire started July 29. The fire remains at 5903 hectares in size as of Aug. 8.

Despite the progress being made in that area, BC Wildfire says it can’t lift the evacuation order.

“The fire is still classified as out of control and we want it 100 feet from homes before we are lifting any orders,” he said.

Highway 3A remains closed

BC Wildfire couldn’t say when they can open up Highway 3A after seeing it closed over the weekend and into Monday.

“Highway 3A is a very busy work zone with suppression crews, heavy equipment and fire trucks over the weekend,” said BC Wildfire’s Bryan Zanberg.

“It’s black all the way down to the road so that’s a good thing,” he said. Once the highway does re-open, BC Wildfire asks that drivers stay alert for their crews and to keep their speeds down.

“Before we closed the highway we had some near misses with our crews,” said Zanberg.

READ MORE: Fire fuelling forecast for Keremeos Creek wildfire, near Penticton

Evacuation orders and alerts remain unchanged

There are currently 547 properties on evacuation order from Green Mountain Road, Sheep Creek, Apex Mountain village and Olalla and Highway 3A. A new reception centre has been opened at Victory Hall in Keremeos.

In Olalla, they are getting closer to getting the fire under control but they aren’t there yet, said BC Wildfire. In Apex village, there is no fire activity in the area but big winds could change everything.

“We are building guards and contingency lines to make sure if the fire did come to Apex it can’t get to it and we can pinch the fire off,” said Zandberg. But the work being done is in really difficult terrain where BC Wildfire has to have air rescue for crews if the fire comes their way.

‘Belligerent’ evacuees

RCMP have had to step in at times with ‘belligerent’ and aggressive evacuated property owners trying to get back to their homes.

“We’ve heard of people getting verbally combative with security staff at checkpoints,” said RDOS emergency manager Erick Thompson. “Unless you have an emergency or have to get back in to rescue your crops we do make some allowances but if not you are putting everyone in a dangerous position.”

There is still rolling debris and helicopters can’t drop water on a fire if people are below, he pointed out.

For the most part, evacuees have been compliant but BC Wildfire is seeing some bad behaviour.

“We are empathetic to people’s hardships. But being belligerent is actually a real draw down on our resources,” he said.

RDOS director Tim Roberts for Area G said residents are frustrated and concerned.

“One orchard was on evacuation but they needed to get their crop off so they had to get in before the fruit went to rot,” said Roberts. “There’s also frustration with one neighbour on alert and the other across the street isn’t.”

There are 1,050 properties on alert including a large portion of the village of Keremeos.

‘Air tankers aren’t magic wand’

According to BC Wildfire, air tankers aren’t the magic wand to fighting fires.

“We are doing a lot of mop up right now which is hands-on boots on the ground. We also have 16 helicopters on this fire with heavy capacity that have had big payloads for us,” said Zanberg.

They also have 40 pieces of heavy equipment and 245 wildland firefighters and an additional 160 structural protection personnel from fire departments across B.C . are managing the blaze for a total crew complement of 405 firefighters.

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Monique Tamminga

About the Author: Monique Tamminga

Monique brings 20 years of award-winning journalism experience to the role of editor at the Penticton Western News. Of those years, 17 were spent working as a senior reporter and acting editor with the Langley Advance Times.
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