UPDATE: A good day for Joe Rich firefighters

Flames began shooting up trees around her, ‘I’ve never been this scared in my life’, said Cynthia Row

UPDATE: 5:10 p.m.

Conditions have been good today for crews fighting the Philpott Road wildfire, according to a Central Okanangan Emergency Services release.

Structural fire crews continue their efforts to protect buldings throughout the area while BC Wildfire crews and equipment on the ground and with helicopters have been working to get some containment of the 400-hectre blaze.

There haven’t been any reports of structural damage at this point, however the fire is still very active and official damage assessments have not been completed, said the CORD release.

As the fire is still considered out of control, there is no change with the evacuation order which affects approximately 1,100 people and more than 470 properties.

The emergency support services reception centre volunteers have been extremely busy, having registered over 570 people at the centre in Willow Park Church, 439 Highway 33 West, said the CORD release.

Today, they’ve assisted 331 residents affected by the Evacuation Order and they processed 241 yesterday, according to the release. The reception centre will close tonight at 6 p.m. It will operate tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 12:30 p.m. to 5.

The Canadian Red Cross says with the support of the Provincial Government, residents affected by the Philpott Road wildfire are eligible for up to $600 financial assistance per household by registering with the Red Cross. Register by going online or by calling 1-800-863-6582.

With the continued evacuation rrder, Highway 33 remains closed. Those who may use the detour route via McCulloch Road are reminded to use extreme caution and drive no more than 35 kilometres an hour as this is not a regularly maintained route and is only recommended for non-commercial, passenger vehicles.

According to Kelowna RCMP, a number of people were escorted to their properties today in the area to reach their animals, and further evacuation of the animals will be on a case-by-case basis.

The RCMP is currently working with Animal Lifeline Emergency Response Team.

UPDATE: 4 p.m.

The Joe Rich wildfire is currently sitting at 400 hectres in size, said fire information officer Navi Saini.

It is 0 per cent contained and air tankers were not able to fight the fire today due to smoke and four helicopters are on the scene, she said.

The fire is still 1 kilometre away from the nearest structure.

UPDATE: 2:15 p.m.

Kevin Skrepnek with the BC Wildfire Service says many of the fires burning accoss the province were caused by lightening and most were contained at a small size — around one hectare or less — with the exception of the Joe Rich fire burning east of Kelowna.

That wildfire quickly grew out of control and now sits at 380 hectares. It was fanned by high winds in the Central Okanagan, with gusts reaching up to 70 km/h that contributed to its aggressive growth.

Evacuation orders remain in effect.

UPDATE: 11 a.m.

A drop in wind and cooler temperatures stopped the spread of the Philpott Road wildfire in Joe Rich.

It’s still out of control, however, and measured at approximately 380 hectares in size, said Justine Hunse from the BC Wildfire Service, just after 10 a.m. Friday.

Joe Rich and surrounding area has been evacuated meaning 1,100 residents from nearly 500 homes, have been sent into the care of friends, family and emergency service workers.

Flames are within one kilometre of the closest home and, said Hunse, local fire departments are “working on implementing structural protection measures.”

The struggle with this fire, now that wind isn’t fanning flames, is the topography.

“The Philpott Road fire is burning in heavily timbered forest in steep terrain, which is a challenge for suppression efforts on the ground,” said Hunse, noting that there are 23 BC Wildfire personnel on site working with local fire departments and there are additional resources being mobilized.

Hunse couldn’t say what direction the fire was currently moving, however she said that it started within the Joe Rich Fire Department coverage area and moved into Crown land very quickly.

The cause has yet to be established and is under investigation.

Highway 33 remains closed from the Gallaghers Road intersection on the City of Kelowna to Big White Road. The next update is expected at 2:30 p.m.

—-

UPDATE: 9:20 a.m.

Area property owner Jeremy Ford said the blaze began as a spot fire along Highway 33. By the time he had called for help, it was already racing through grass and bush into a heavily treed area.

Ford said he ensured his family was safely out and then remained behind to help others.

“I stayed there until the last minute to help out my neighbours because they have got animals,” said Ford, who added he released the animals from a neighbouring barn just as police ordered him to leave.

“So now the animals have got a chance to live and not be cooped up in a pen in the fire. That’s all we can do.”

Cynthia Row said she was running on trails through the hills above Highway 33 when flames began shooting up trees around her, blocking the path and forcing her to bushwhack downhill toward the highway.

She ran into a wall of fire before she reached the safety of the road, but was able to sidestep the flames.

“I was terrified and now I’m just in shock,” she said.

“I’ve never been this scared in my life. I’ve had encounters with bears. I’ve been lost for days. I’ve been in trouble, and I’ve never experienced anything like this. It was frightening.

“I’m very lucky I got out.”

The BC Wildfire Service said the fire was probably caused by human activity.

About two dozen firefighters, two helicopters and two pieces of heavy equipment worked on it Thursday night. More resources were expected to be assigned.

The wildfire service website showed the blaze was one of about 30 sparked over a 24-hour period. Two of those were also suspected of being caused by humans, but most were linked to lightning storms that moved through the area.

The Canadian Press

—-

ORIGINAL: 6:30 a.m.

The Philpott Road fire in Joe Rich is still out of control.

Justine Hunse, from the BC Wildfire Service, said Friday morning that improved conditions overnight have yet to give crews the upper hand and the fire is still estimated to be 380 hectares.

Yesterday afternoon, and well into the evening, we had grounds crews out there to construct a guard,” Hunse said.

They were assisted by multiple air tankers and helicopters working on fire suppression.

“Of course, we have additional resources being mobilized this morning for both ground crews and air support,” she said.

The Central Okanagan Emergency Support Services has estimated that some 1,100 people are out of their homes due to an evacuation of the area and they aren’t likely to be able to return this morning.

“There were no unexpected challenges overnight for firefighters on the Philpott Road wildfire. Cool overnight conditions and minimal wind kept the fire from progressing. Thick smoke in the area is due to the lack of air movement overnight,” reports CORD Friday Morning.

“Crews from Joe Rich, Ellison, Kelowna, Peachland and Lake Country along with ten other fire departments throughout the interior and the BC Wildfire Service monitored the 380-hectare blaze.”

Hunse said there have yet to be any structures damaged in the blaze, however, the nearest home is one kilometre from the fire.

“The local fire departments have been working to establish guards there,” she said.

The Emergency Support Services reception centre set up at the Willow Park Church, 439 Highway 33 West in Kelowna will open at 10 a.m. this morning to help any people affected by the Evacuation Order.

A decision on the possible opening of Highway 33 is expected later this morning.

“For now, it remains closed from the Gallaghers Road intersection on the City of Kelowna to Big White Road. A detour route is available for non-commercial passenger vehicles for those who must travel via McCulloch Road.”

The next update isn’t expected to be ready until around 8:30 a.m.

For more information go to www.cordemergency.ca.

 

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