At least 1,000 Peachland residents are being evacuated and a state of emergency has been declared as an aggressive wildfire sweeps down on the community.
Fanned by strong winds, the fire exploded in only a few hours to well over 100 hectares.
RCMP Const. Steve Holmes says the fire to the west of the Okanagan community, in an area called Trepannier Bench on the west side of Okanagan Lake, was spotted this afternoon and was quickly whipped into a major burn by 30- to 40-kilometre an hour winds.
An evecuation alert was issued at 7 p.m. for the resendential area all the way down to Highway 97, from Seventh to First avenues.
“We’re dealing with a pretty unpredictable fire,” Holmes said.
RCMP officers conducting highway speed patrols noticed the fire around 3 p.m. Sunday and called it in.
“Right away, the fire took off,” he said.
Within a half hour of the report authorities issued the evacuation order “because it was moving extremely fast.”
“Our biggest issue has been with Mother Nature, which is the high winds we’ve been experiencing in the area, and the unpredictability,” Holmes said. “They’ve been changing direction and they’ve been driving a lot of smoke, a lot of flames down towards Highway 97 as well as smoke up onto the 97 Connector.”
Some residents could see the approaching flames as the order went out. “People were very co-operative in leaving the area,” Holmes said.
** Click here to see some photos of the fire.
Fire information officer Kevin Skrepneksaid at least a dozen firefighters from Penticton are on scene, as well as 60 BC Forest Service firefighters in three sustained action crews are there or on their way.
Five helicopters, seven air tankers, two spotters are attacking from the sky.
Coun. Mohini Singh saw the fire while she was driving in the area and said it was "huge."
"There are a couple of houses in there — it was very close to homes," said Singh. "It was a huge, huge, huge pillar of smoke."
She said the flames were licking all the way to the tops of the trees.
The fire is burning very close to Peachland elementary school.
"It doesn't look like the school's in danger," said J.P. Squire, The Daily Courier reporter on the scene.
About three helicopters are dropping water on the fire, he said.
"The fire is going right up the hillside, and if you look at the top of the hillside: house, house, house, house," he said. "Huge flames. It's just racing across from from one grassy spot to the next."
Reached on his cellphone, Peachland Mayor Keith Fielding said he couldn't confirm the number of homes evacuated because he was caught up in the emergency.
"My house is almost on fire," he said before hanging up.
An emergency operations centre has been set up in nearby Kelowna, and evacuees were directed to an emergency registration centre at the Westbank Lions Club.
** Click here for a list of streets in Peachland affected by the evacuation order.
** Click here for the second list of evacuation orders and alerts.
Drive BC said Highway 97 is open to single-lane traffic. Cars are lined up almost all the way to Gorman Bros. mill.
B.C. forestry crews are now attacking the fire with planes.
Walter Huber, a winemaker at Hainle Vineyards, told CBC News that the fire is about two kilometres from him.
"I have been walking up to the vineyards and it looks like the whole mountain is on fire on the other side," he told CBC.
"There's lots of smoke, there's about five fire bombers in there right now and several helicopters so it has to be bigger ... It's right in a residential area where a lot of houses are, so a lot of people are evacuating. In fact, our neighbours are leaving right now," he said.