Fire in the sky

A firefighting helicopter is set against a backdrop of charred forest Thursday at the Eagle Bluff fire near Oliver.

It will take more than an evacuation alert for Cory Schultz to shorten his family’s vacation in the South Okanagan.

The native of Red Deer, Alta., is camping at Gallagher Lake, where the nearby Eagle Bluff fire – measured at 1,500 hectares as of Thursday evening – prompted officials on Sunday night to warn people in the area to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

“They’ve been telling us we’re on alert, but they seem to think there’s a very slim chance,” Schultz said Thursday.

He noted a steep rock face between the campground and fire has been a “godsend,” forcing the fire away from Gallagher Lake.

Out of an abundance of caution, however, Schultz and other campers stayed up late Sunday night when the fire was sparked about halfway between Oliver and Okanagan Falls.

“Nobody seemed super-concerned,” he said.

“We went to bed and got up the next morning and saw the fire crews and helicopters. They’ve been fabulous with taking care of it.”

Grant Williams, owner of Medici’s Gelateria & Coffee House in Oliver, is also taking the emergency in stride and doesn’t believe the fire is costing him tourist business from the next province over.

Albertans, he suggested, are “unhappy with B.C. over our political stance on pipelines, and I think in Alberta, as well, the economy has been bad for three or four years. So as that adds up, it gets harder and harder for families to travel,” said Williams.

“Campers from Gallagher Lake come in and they seemed to be unconcerned. People from Vancouver are up here and come in in the mornings … but they’re not planning on leaving,” he added.

Nor are the 100-plus firefighters who are now battling the Eagle Bluff blaze around the clock.

BC Wildfire Service spokeswoman Nicole Bonnett said additional crews arrived Thursday in part to respond to “potential forecasted weather events,” and also to help carry out other firefighting duties. The service also had five pieces of heavy equipment on the ground and 13 helicopters in the air.

Bonnett said if conditions were favourable, trees and bush ahead of the west flank of the fire were going to be deliberately burned Thursday to prevent flames from moving in that direction. A similar burn on the same fire flank was successfully conducted Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a fresh evacuation alert was issued late Wednesday for 41 properties in the McKinney Creek area east of Oliver.

Separate evacuation alerts remain in place for the Senkulmen Business Park, home to the Okanagan Correctional Centre, inmates from which are being transferred to other jails as a precaution, plus 42 land parcels that comprise 206 properties near Gallagher Lake.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

With files from The Canadian Press