The Christie Mountain wildfire saw minimal growth in size despite heavy Friday winds, thanks to the work of ground and air crews from across the province.
Providing an update on the status of the fire near Penticton, the city held a noon press conference with BC Wildfire Service and the Regional District of the Okanagan Similkameen officials on Saturday (Aug. 22).
Nicole Bonnet, information officer with Wildfire Service, said the size of the blaze remains at an estimated 2,000 hectares (ha), with a likely overnight increase of about 35 ha.
Fire Chief Larry Watkinson said crews did structural defence work on the upper east sides of the community, establishing wet lines in at-risk neighbourhoods and eliminating hot spots around properties.
Despite winds forecasted at up to 70 km/hr, the efforts have inspired confidence that, for now, the fire is no longer encroaching on the community.
“We feel very confident that the fire is no longer threatening structures.”
Watkinson said 61 pieces of equipment and 143 firefighters from across B.C. were part of the efforts on Friday. About 110 firefighters and most of the equipment were sent home Saturday morning.
“Those 61 pieces of fire apparatus certainty did impact our community,” he said, adding he’s already received messages from the community expressing their appreciation for the firefighters involved.
Donny van Dyk, director of the city’s Emergency Operations Centre, confirmed 3,669 homes remain on evacuation alert, and added the decision to lift the alert must first be approved by BC Wildfire. The alert along the city limits is likely to remain in place for a few more days.
Dan Taudin-Chabot, BC Wildfire operations section chief, said the service is evaluating the alert daily using growth projection models, but risk assessments haven’t yet yielded enough certainty to lift it just yet.
Taudin-Chabot said the passing cold front Friday flipped the wind direction from south to north-northwest.
“Now we’re getting winds pushing on the fire in a direction that we haven’t seen yet,” he said, adding that the new direction is towards an area with more fuels, but fortunately, away from the community.
Another factor that worked in crews’ favour was the fact that the fire was burning in the same location of the Garnet wildfire of 1994, which took out much of the fuel in the area.
Mayor John Vassilaki said he’s grateful that residents in at-risk areas have been taking steps to prepare for evacuation, including pre-registering with emergency support services, packing a 72-hour emergency kit and making arrangements for protecting their pets.
“While the sky is blue here today in Penticton, the risk remains. Please stay safe and please stay vigilant with your planning and preparations,” he said.
For evacuation information, the City of Penticton has a call center, 250-490-2345, open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. over the weekend with extended hours next week.
Residents in the affected areas can also pre-register for evacuation assistance at ess.gov.bc.ca. As of 11 a.m. Aug. 22, a total of 4,100 Penticton residents have pre-registered.
Vassilaki also said he’s been pleased to have witnessed fewer people watching the fire from the side of the road, and fewer boats in the way of air tankers and helicopters on Skaha Lake.
Friday at noon, an area evacuation order was initiated for the vicinity of the wildfire area, restricting people without authorization from travelling within mapped geographical boundaries.