Officials have begun transferring inmates out of the Okanagan Correctional Centre north of Oliver as a wildfire burns dangerously close to the jail.
The first prisoners were taken by sheriffs to jails in the Lower Mainland on Tuesday night, with more expected to leave on Wednesday night as a result of the 900-hectare Eagle Bluff fire.
The transfers were precipitated by the Osoyoos Indian Band declaring an evacuation alert for the business park in which the jail is located.
“We started to transfer some folks just in case we do end up getting (an evacuation order) to transfer everybody,” said jail spokesperson Alicia Bertrand.
“We tend to put (inmate) way out of the fire zone,” she explained. “It’s unlikely that we would go up to Prince George or to Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre, our closest one nearby.
“We would be thinking long-term; evacuation alerts can last more than a week.”
The tripling in size of the Eagle Bluff fire as of late Wednesday afternoon from a day earlier was attributed to more accurate mapping and “some growth overnight as a result of the topography of the area,” according to the B.C. Wildfire Service website.
An incident management team was overseeing 80 personnel on the ground Wednesday, along with eight helicopters and air tankers in the sky. A structure protection unit has also been deployed as a precaution.
A separate evacuation alert remains in place for 42 land parcels in the area that comprise 206 properties, many of them campsites at Gallagher Lake.
Affected properties are on Highway 97, McIntyre Creek Road, Brauns Road, Sundial Road, Gallagher Lake Road, Enterprise Way, James Way and Manuels Canyon Road, but not nearby Tucelnuit Drive.
B.C. Wildfire Service spokeswoman Nicole Bonnett said crews planned to conduct controlled burns Wednesday.
“That will be to remove the combustible fuels between the valley bottom and the fire perimeter.”
The fire sparked Sunday night in the Gallagher Lake area approximately halfway between Oliver and Okanagan Falls on the east side of Highway 97.
The cause is still under investigation. FortisBC, which has high-voltage transmission lines and a substation in the fire zone, has said its equipment is not responsible for the fire.