The skies above Osoyoos are thick with smoke from the nearby Nk'Mip Creek wildfire. (Twila Amato - Black Press)

Nk’Mip fire in Osoyoos top priority for BC Wildfire

Over 370 properties on evacuation order but some refusing to leave

Swiftly changing winds are a large concern for BC Wildfire and the local governments in the area of the Nk’Mip creek wildfire.

Osoyoos and Oliver, Area A and C in the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen and Area E of the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary are all under states of emergency and have either evacuation alerts or orders.

”This fire is one of our highest priorities in the province at this time,” said Dale Bojahra, the incident commander and coordination officer with BC Wildfire.

BC Wildfire also called directly on residents in evacuation order areas to follow those orders.

“We’ve had numerous incidents in our area where orders have been issued and people have refused to leave and then they ask us later for help. Everyone needs to understand that’s a very dangerous situation and they could find themselves in a situation where our crews have to be pulled out, and they will be on their own,” said Bojahra. “We may not be able to mount a rescue, and if we are, we are putting our own firefighters at risk to remove people who shouldn’t be there in the first place.”

Those tactical evacuations are led by RCMP, Search and Rescue and local fire departments.

The fire is currently listed at 2,000 hectares, but the shifting conditions have made getting an accurate estimate of its current size difficult.

“To give you an example of how dynamic this fire is, yesterday it spread across six km in just a couple hours,” he said.

There are currently 37 firefighters, with five helicopters and 13 pieces of heavy equipment, which is being used to build up fire guards along multiple flanks of the fire.

The fire is currently being pushed by winds from the west, but there are expectations of it shifting and crews are prepared for it.

“We are expecting a windy afternoon, and things could shift on us this afternoon,” said Bojahra. “As we move into the prime burning period, wind has a major influence on fire behaviour.”

The Shrike Hills area is considered a primary focus at the moment and overnight, with vulnerable structures in that area. The rocky ground and hills of the area make it a challenge.

One vineyard on Black Sage Road had a small amount of damage, said Oliver Mayor Martin Johansen.

Evacuation orders and alerts

Search and Rescue resources in the South Okanagan have been fully tapped, to the point that when the wind shifted and drove the Nk’Mip Creek fire towards the Anarchist Mountain area, there were no volunteers to spare and the Anarchist Mountain Volunteer Fire Department stepped forward to deliver evacuation orders from door to door.

READ MORE: Don’t drive around neighbourhoods being evacuated, urges fire chief in Nk’Mip fire

Currently there are 379 properties under evacuation order due to the Nk’Mip Creek Fire, and another 325 under evacuation alert in the RDOS. The RDKB has an additional 122 under order and 304 under alert in their Electoral Area E.

“Basically everything north of Highway 3 going through Anarchist Mountain is under order,” said RDOS CAO Bill Newell. “Everything south to the border is on alert.”

RCMP are patrolling areas that have been evacuated to protect properties.

There is a reception centre set up at the Legion in Oliver and at the Jack Goddard Memorial Arena in Grand Forks.

The Town of Osoyoos has expressed concerns over boaters on the water, although BC Wildfire had not reported any interference with their aircraft who use the lakes to reload.

Gas is also in short supply, according to Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff, who herself had difficulty finding fuel for her vehicle.

Visitors to Osoyoos should return home, says mayor

“If people were evacuated from campgrounds or resorts, their best bet is to return to their home,” said McKortoff. “Our resorts and hotels are full. It’s not that we can accommodate lots of people. Tourists are important in all our communities in the Okanagan, but our first job is to make sure people are safe and obeying the rules.”

Princeton is setting up RV spaces for those who have had to evacuate who have RVs with them. That includes people who are not residents of the region but are unwilling or unable to return to their home communities.

For people who are under evacuation alert or evacuation order, residents are eligible for assistance at the emergency support services set up by the RDOS, not including those who have secondary homes in the region.

The Animal Lifeline Emergency Response Team and other search and rescue teams have been busy rescuing pets and livestock, putting them up largely in Osoyoos at the current time.

The South Okanagan Secondary School is being set up as a staging area for firefighters, with 18 firefighters currently on site and more than 100 expected to arrive from out of the region, including firefighters from Mexico.

Osoyoos’ Desert Park is also being considered as a staging area, particularly for the fight against the fire on the Anarchist Mountain front.

Other Fires

The Thomas Creek fire was also given an update by the RDOS, and is currently burning more to the north and east, away from Okanagan Falls where it had initially threatened. The 704 evacuation alerts for residents there are still in place, but no orders are currently active.

READ MORE: Minimal growth in Thomas Creek wildfire, forecasted wind poses risk

The Brenda Creek fire is also still in the middle of evacuation alerts, and is also looking good according to the RDOS, with it still limited to 450 hectares and a solid fire guard establishing between the fire and the Brenda Creek Mines.

Around 3 a.m. the RDOS had notice of a new fire near Richter Pass on Highway 3, but it is currently under control, and that fire too threatened a power line that supplies power to Osoyoos.

The RDOS noted that with the high winds that are expected over the evening, additional evacuation orders and alerts and changes to existing alerts could be made at a moment’s notice.

In his final words to the media, Bojahra called on members of the public to express extra caution with their activities while outdoors.

“The last thing BC Wildfire Service needs right now is more fires on the landscape,” said Bojahra. “Please follow instructions if you’ve been ordered out of your, and if you’re out there using the forest or the land make sure you take the time to think about what you’re and if it could be the source of a new fire.”

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B.C. Wildfires 2021OkanaganWildfires