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Kelowna declares state of emergency after wildfire jumps Okanagan Lake, prompting more evacuations

UPDATE — Aug. 18, 2023: Thousands ordered to evacuate in B.C.’s Okanagan as fast-moving wildfire threatens Kelowna, West Kelowna


THE LATEST:

  • A state of emergency has been declared in Kelowna after wildfires forced evacuations for residents in the Clifton area north of the downtown early Friday morning.
  • The City of West Kelowna and the Westbank First Nation have declared a local state of emergency, with thousands of properties under evacuation orders or alerts.
  • There is “structural loss” in West Kelowna, officials say.
  • Highway 1 closed overnight in both directions between Hope and Lytton due to wildfire activity Thursday.
  • Dozens of other properties around the B.C. Interior have been ordered evacuated, including the Lytton First Nation and an area north of Ulkatcho First Nation
  • Officials warn the coming days could be “the most challenging of the summer,” as a volatile cold front sweeps through southern B.C. with high winds and dry lightning.
  • New evacuation orders and wildfires are expected throughout Thursday night and into Friday morning. Learn more about how to find the full list of wildfires, highway closures and evacuation orders and alerts.

Thousands of people have been forced from their homes in B.C.’s Okanagan, with evacuation orders issued after a wildfire jumped Lake Okanagan, sparking spot wildfires in Kelowna.

Early Friday morning, evacuation orders were issued for residents of the Clifton Road North and McKinley area of Kelowna, which is north of the downtown, due to the McDougall Creek wildfire.

A state of emergency has been declared by the City of Kelowna, which has a population of almost 150,000.

Officials say the McDougall Creek wildfire has grown rapidly after being discovered Tuesday about 10 kilometres northwest of West Kelowna, which is on the western side of Lake Okanagan, while Kelowna is on the east.

The City of West Kelowna and the Westbank First Nation also declared a local state of emergency Thursday night due to that same wildfire.

More than 2,400 properties are under evacuation orders, with another 4,800 properties under alert. West Kelowna has a population of 36,000.

The Central Okanagan emergency operations website said early Friday that “officials have confirmed some structural loss” in West Kelowna and Regional District of Central Okanagan West areas. A full assessment will be done in the morning, it said.

WATCH | Kelowna residents watch as smoke, flames loom over West Kelowna: 

More than 1,000 properties have been ordered evacuated as wildfires rapidly spread toward West Kelowna, B.C.

Jason Brolund, chief of the West Kelowna fire department, said the evacuation order area was likely to grow Thursday night.

Earlier that day, Brolund had warned that drought conditions, a dry landscape and high winds meant conditions could worsen at a moment’s notice.

“It will take literally nothing to get a fire started,” he said.

WATCH | Update from West Kelowna fire chief: 

kelowna declares state of emergency after wildfire jumps okanagan lake prompting more evacuations 1

West Kelowna fire chief talks about the difficulty fighting the rapidly-growing fire

16 hours ago

Duration 0:59

Chief Jason Brolund says firefighters were removed from their posts multiple times today because of the dangerous conditions.

Evacuees asked to seek shelter with friends, family

Due to the high number of properties under evacuation orders and alerts, residents are being directed to an interactive map to search by address to find out how individual homes and businesses are impacted.

Evacuees are being asked to register online.

View of the McDougall Creek wildfire from downtown Kelowna.
The McDougall Creek wildfire is seen from downtown Kelowna on Aug. 17, 2023. (Shannon Smalley)

For those in Kelowna, a reception centre has been set up at the Salvation Army at 1480 Sutherland Drive.

Evacuees from West Kelowna who live south of Traders Cove can go to the Information Centre at Royal LePage Place at 2760 Cameron Road . For those who live north of Traders Cove, a reception centre for evacuees has been opened at Kal Tire Place at 3445 43rd Ave in Vernon, located around 60 kilometres north of West Kelowna.

A public information line is also available at 250-469-8490 or 1-877-569-8490.

WATCH | Timelapse of McDougall Creek wildfire captured by resident:

kelowna declares state of emergency after wildfire jumps okanagan lake prompting more evacuations 3

Wildfire smoke rises above West Kelowna

19 hours ago

Duration 0:11

Melissa Smyk captured a timelapse of smoke from the McDougall Creek fire rising above West Kelowna.

The regional district is also asking evacuees to reach out to friends and family as hotels, motels and other tourism operators in the area are at capacity.

Everyone covered by an evacuation alert is asked to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice as the province is facing a highly volatile wildfire situation.

thick smoke over Okanagan Lake and several boats
Smoke from the McDougall Creek wildfire is seen over Okanagan Lake from a marina in downtown Kelowna, B.C., on Aug. 17, 2023. (Debbie Asking)

Highway 1 closed, more orders issued

DriveBC said Thursday that wildfire activity has closed a stretch of Highway 1 in both directions between Hope and Lytton, the community 260 kilometres northeast of Vancouver that was devastated by fire in 2021.

The closure will remain in place until at least Friday morning.

The Lytton First Nation issued an evacuation order Thursday afternoon due to the Stein Mountain fire. The order covers the Nkaih Indian Reserve No. 10 and Lytton Indian Reserve 9A.  

Other evacuation orders were also issued Thursday evening, including for 40 properties south of Kamloops and for residents of the the Eliguk Lake Area north of the Ulkatcho First Nation near Anahim Lake.

A list of all evacuation orders and alerts is posted online by Emergency Info B.C.

A critical 48 hours

At a press conference Thursday morning, provincial officials warned the province is headed into the most critical portion of the wildfire season so far.

Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma and Minister of Forests Bruce Ralston were among those who addressed the ongoing wildfire, drought and heat conditions before a cold-weather front was expected to bring strong winds and lightning for virtually the entire province.


“This weather event has the potential to be the most challenging 24 to 48 hours of the summer from a fire perspective,” said Cliff Chapman, director of wildfire operations for the BCWS.

“We are expecting significant growth, and we are expecting our resources to be challenged from north to south of the province over the next 48 hours.”

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 16,000 square kilometres of land has burned in B.C. — the most recorded land burned in the province’s history.


More stories on wildfires and heat:


People across B.C. should be prepared to leave their homes

Neal McLoughlin, a BCWS forecaster, warns that people across the province, particularly in the southern and Interior regions, should be prepared to leave their homes. 

In a video released by the provincial firefighting agency on Wednesday, McLoughlin says record-high temperatures earlier this week — with some places reaching highs above 40 C — combined with predicted high winds and dry lightning for Thursday through Friday have turned much of the province into a tinderbox, meaning new fires could start and spread very easily.

WATCH | B.C. Wildfire Service forecaster explains concerns over potential new wildfires: 

kelowna declares state of emergency after wildfire jumps okanagan lake prompting more evacuations 5

B.C. wildfire forecaster ‘very concerned’ about the days ahead

2 days ago

Duration 1:59

Neal McLoughlin says he’s worried this week’s record-breaking temperatures combined with forecasts of high wind and dry lightning will lead to the rapid growth of more wildfires in southern B.C.

“You’re probably noticing your lawn is starting to show signs of fall. It’s turning brown, and you may also be seeing early signs of deciduous trees turning yellow,” he said.

“These plants are experiencing extreme drought conditions and [are] available to burn more than it typically would be this time of year.”

Follow evacuation orders: minister

Ma reiterated the importance of residents being prepared with grab-and-go kits so they can leave their homes quickly should an evacuation order come.

“We are urging people to stay calm, to be alert and to be prepared,” she said.

“An evacuation order is not the time to wait and see, especially not under the conditions that are being forecasted.”

People at a lake under smoke.
Smoke from nearby wildfires covers the sky in Kelowna, B.C. on Aug. 16. The neighbouring municipality of West Kelowna has declared a state of local emergency. (Winston Szeto/CBC)

Environment Canada had issued special weather statements covering much of the province’s Interior, including the Cariboo, Chilcotin, Okanagan, Thompson-Nicola and Kootenays for a cold front moving into the province, bringing with it an unstable atmosphere and gusty conditions.

Wind gusts of up to 70 km/h, along with dry lightning and continued heat, could contribute to more or worsening wildfires, the agency warned, with drought-stricken trees more likely to burn and blow over.

Under these conditions, a large fire could “quickly change directions,” McLoughlin says, “with the flank of the fire quickly becoming the head, and we could have a large fire growing quite quickly across the landscape.”

A wildfire burns over a mountain.
The Crater Creek wildfire near Keremeos, B.C., as seen from the Ashnola Forest Service Road on Aug. 16, 2023. (Marcel Begemann)

Other orders, alerts

Meanwhile, the Crater Creek wildfire southwest of Keremeos continues to burn over an area of 100 square kilometres.

It led to the evacuation of more than 100 people in the southern Interior community near the U.S. border. Nineteen properties remain on evacuation order due to the fire, and 189 are on evacuation alert.


Around 1,000 properties in the Kootenays are also on evacuation alert due to several fires burning near the communities of Panorama, Radium Hot Springs and Sparwood.

They include the Horsethief Creek wildfire burning about 10 kilometres west of Invermere, a fire of note that is currently almost 40 square kilometres.

The Columbia-Shuswap Regional District has also expanded evacuation alerts due to the Lower East Adams Lake wildfire northeast of Kamloops.

Orange clouds of smoke are seen behind a treeline.
The Crater Creek wildfire southwest of Keremeos, B.C., is seen on Aug. 16, when it grew to cover 100 square kilometres. (Submitted by Emma Roberts)

The BCWS says it was close to lifting evacuation orders covering more than 200 properties around Gun Lake, north of Pemberton, where the 26-square-kilometre Downton Lake fire has destroyed three properties, but those plans have been stalled because of the incoming wind and potential lightning.

As of Thursday, 372 active wildfires were burning in B.C., with 14 of those being wildfires of note — meaning they are particularly visible or threatening to properties.

Chapman said there are 3,400 firefighters deployed across the province, with dozens from other jurisdictions such as Mexico and Costa Rica.

B.C. taking patients from N.W.T.

Both Ma and Ralston acknowledged the devastation wildfires are having in the Northwest Territories, with Yellowknife under an evacuation order. They said B.C. was standing with the N.W.T. and would be receiving 55 hospital and care home patients from there.

WATCH | B.C. prepared for evacuees from N.W.T.:

kelowna declares state of emergency after wildfire jumps okanagan lake prompting more evacuations 9

B.C. ready to receive long-term care and hospital patients from NWT wildfire evacuations

23 hours ago

Duration 1:12

B.C. Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma says the province stands ready to offer assistance for NWT evacuees and will receive hospital patients and long-term care residents from Yellowknife.

But officials said because of the convergence of a heat wave, drought and already dry conditions in B.C. combined with a threatening weather event, the province would not be able to send any firefighters to the territory at this time.

“There is a strong likelihood of new fire starts that will grow quickly and unpredictably in the coming days,” said Ralston about B.C.


Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire.

To find the centre closest to you, visit the EmergencyInfoBC website.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.


Do you have a story to share?

If you’ve been affected by the B.C. wildfires and want to share your story, email cbcnewsvancouver@cbc.ca.

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