Loading up

Skimmer planes fill up on Osoyoos Lake.

Heavy winds have helped bulk up Nk’Mip Creek wildfire, but officials were still unsure as of Thursday afternoon how much additional ground had been scorched.

As it stood, the fire was still pegged at 2,000 hectares – unchanged from Tuesday – while the BC Wildfire Service waited for the smoke to clear long enough to send up a plane to re-map the perimeter.

“However, there has been significant growth that we’re aware of on the northeast and southern perimeters of the fire,” said Dani McIntosh, a spokeswoman for the BC Wildfire Service.

Since it sparked on Monday afternoon east of Highway 97 approximately halfway between Osoyoos and Oliver, the fire largely skirted the two towns and moved through rural areas towards Anarchist Mountain and the Boundary region, triggering evacuation orders and alerts for approximately 2,500 properties across five different jurisdictions.

But fed by strong winds Wednesday night and early Thursday, the fire crept closer to Osoyoos landmarks like Spirit Ridge Resort, Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre and the Sonora Dunes Golf Course, prompting fresh evacuation orders from the Osoyoos Indian Band.

McIntosh said flames impacted some power lines and crews were still checking for other damage, but there had been no confirmed reports of any structures being lost.

There were 57 personnel and three aircraft working the fire Thursday. The response is now being led by a 17-person incident management team from Parks Canada that’s normally based in Banff but was dispatched here to provide relief to the BC Wildfire Service, which is stretched thin.

Another major fire in the South Okanagan has also put on size but seems to be running out of steam.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Thomas Creek wildfire near Okanagan Falls was pegged at 7,000 hectares, up from 6,600 a day earlier.

The increase was attributed to more precise mapping by the BC Wildfire Service, which saw “minimal fire growth” Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

“Cooler temperatures allowed crews to make steady progress towards containment on the south flank,” the service stated in an update on its website.

The fire, which is suspected to be human-caused, lit up July 11 in the hills approximately 1.5 kilometres east of Skaha Lake near the midway point of McLean Creek Road.

Since then, the fire has generally been moving to the north and east, away from Okanagan Falls and towards the 201 Forest Service Road, which is doing double-duty as a fuel break.

A total of 704 properties in the area are under an evacuation alert.

And another 43 properties in the Headwaters area near Peachland remain under an evacuation order due to the Brenda Creek fire burning a few kilometres south of the Okanagan Connector.

The fire was estimated Thursday at 660 hectares, up from 450 a day earlier.

Of particular concern there is a BC Hydro transmission line that provides the only source of power for tens of thousands of homes in Peachland and the Greater West Kelowna area.

“A mass water delivery system is now in place to protect the section of the transmission line within the fire perimeter,” the BC Wildfire Service said in an update on its website.

“This delivery system consists of a 4-inch hose line that supplies a series of larger sprinklers. A specialized high-volume pump supplies water to the line, which can be turned on quickly if the threat to the transmission line increases due to increased fire activity.”

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 233 active fires burning across the province.

Since April 1, a total of 340,000 hectares – or 3,400 square kilometres – has burned. The average amount charred over the past 10 fire seasons in B.C. is 350,000 hectares.

This article has been corrected. A previous version erroneously stated Summerland is supplied by the imperiled BC Hydro transmission line. We regret the error.