Oliver fires still not contained

Two fires burning near Oliver in the South Okanagan are still uncontained.

About 60 people gathered in a room at the Oliver Community Centre on Aug. 15 to hear the latest news on the two fires that are threatening the small South Okanagan town.

Neither the Testalinden Creek fire nor the Wilson Mountain fire are considered contained, though the evacuation order for Wilson Mountain has now been downgraded to an alert. It is the smaller of the two, but has grown to 317 hectares. The Testalinden blaze has scorched an estimated 1,566 hectares.

An emotional Ron Hovanes, the Oliver mayor, got choked up when he thanked volunteers and said it could have been a “huge, huge disaster.”

Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes grew emotional discussing the two fires threatening that community during a press conference Saturday.

The wildfire situation in the South Okanagan worsened dramatically late Friday, when high winds accompanying a system of storms that passed through the area caused the two new fires to grow quickly. The Wilson Mountain fire is about one kilometre north of Oliver, and Testalinden is about seven kilometres to the south.

B.C. Wildfire branch said the cause of the Wilson Mountain fire, which has destroyed at least one home, is still under investigation. Another home was burned in the Testalinden area, which is thought to be caused by lightning.

“It was very tense for the Oliver fire crews. Our initial reports we had calls to testalinden fire though because it is not in our area and in foresty we did not respond we did have several calls later to power lines down because of the wind gusts that happened,” said Oliver volunteer firefighter media information officer Rob Graham.

He said they had a lot of people watching in the area where the evacuation order had been set.

“It really does hamper our efforts when people are in the way. If you do not have to be there please do not be there. You are putting yourself in danger and firefighters in danger,” said Graham.

Late last night (Aug. 14) The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen issued an evacuation order for residents of Oliver, with over 360 homes under evacuation order due to the fires. Officials reported that 300 evacuated residents registered at the emergency social services base set up in the town’s community centre. A secondary evacuation centre in Osoyoos has been closed. The RDOS is asking people to register so they can connect family members.

RCMP Cpl. Mike Field said he has not received any reports of property crime or theft overnight.

“There is always the concern of that, however we have had police officers out in both areas over night. Our members have been on since this began protecting those areas and providing some coverage for those areas,” said Field who added members from Penticton, Keremeos and other detachments have assisted.

The Rock Creek fire to the east has grown to an estimated 3,750 hectares, while the Sidley Mountain fire near Osoyoos is considered 100 per cent contained at 50 hectares.

The Testalinden Creek fire has burned more than 1,500 hectares on steep terrain south of Oliver.