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Numerous individuals who were stranded by a wildfire at remote B were saved C lodge, authorities report | CBC News


British Columbia

Seventy people have been rescued after being stranded in a guesthouse about 100 kilometres southwest of Kelowna, B.C., with their only way out cut off by a wildfire, according to the regional district.

Blaze cut off only access road to Cathedral Lakes Lodge near Keremeos

People stand on the road with vehicles behind them and trees on both sides of the road.

Seventy people were convoyed out of the Cathedral Lakes Lodge, about 30 kilometres southwest of Keremeos, B.C., Wednesday afternoon after the B.C. Wildfire Service had cleared the sole evacuation route amid the Crater Creek wildfire, according to the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen. (Emma Roberts)

Seventy people have been rescued after being stranded in a guesthouse about 100 kilometres southwest of Kelowna, B.C., with their only way out cut off by a wildfire, according to the regional district.

Campers and guests who congregated at the remote Cathedral Lakes Lodge, one of the properties under evacuation order due to the Crater Creek wildfire, were convoyed out of the building on Wednesday afternoon, said Brittany Seibert, an emergency program co-ordinator with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS), at a news conference.

She said a route out of the park was cleared by wildfire service staff and a convoy carrying the campers left around 1 p.m. She said the district is aware of one person who was hiking in the area, and search and rescue is actively working to bring them to safety.

"We have worked very diligently on that today, and we're feeling quite confident we have managed to identify and notify and get people out,'' Seibert said.

The Crater Creek wildfire, a combination of two previously separate wildfires, grew almost tenfold overnight from approximately 12 square kilometres on Tuesday evening to 100 square kilometres Wednesday morning. It is now classified as a "wildfire of note," meaning the blaze is highly visible or poses a potential threat to public safety.

Situated west of Keremeos near the Canada-U.S. border, the Gillanders Creek and Crater Creek wildfires prompted the RDOS to declare an evacuation order around 10 p.m. PT on Tuesday for about a dozen properties along the Ashnola River within Cathedral Provincial Park.

  • Updated

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

These properties, including the privately run Cathedral Lakes Lodge near Quiniscoe Lake, were placed under evacuation order just five hours after being put on evacuation alert.

A plume of smoke purple of colour is rising from a mountain in the dark.

The Crater Creek wildfire, which is a combination of two previously separate wildfires, has expanded tenfold overnight, covering 100 square kilometres as of Wednesday morning. (Ted Wendland)

On Tuesday evening, around 11:30 p.m., the district issued another evacuation alert on 74 more properties west of Keremeos due to the wildfires.

An evacuation alert advises residents to prepare for possible evacuation with little notice, while an evacuation order requires immediate departure.

Waiting for evacuation by B.C. Wildfire Service

VIDEO:

Emma Roberts, who was staying with a friend at Cathedral Lakes Lodge, approximately 30 kilometres southwest of Keremeos, says they were unable to leave due to the wildfire blocking the only access road connecting the guesthouse to Ashnola River Road, which leads to Keremeos.

Roberts says the lodge provided shelter for about 150 people, including lodge guests and campers from nearby campgrounds, as they awaited evacuation by the B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS).

RDOS told CBC News on Thursday that they were unable to confirm whether the remaining people at the lodge had been evacuated.

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"There were definitely some nerves for everyone and a little bit of anxiety. There were other people that had intended to come back down the mountain yesterday and did not intend to remain up the mountain," she said Wednesday afternoon after being evacuated.

"Everybody really did support one another, and the lodge brought everybody together as well and pulled in the campers and made sure everyone was safe and comfortable and fed."

A wooden house on the hill.

About 150 people are sheltering in the Cathedral Lakes Lodge, waiting for evacuation by the B.C. Wildfire Service. (Cathedral Lakes Lodge/Facebook)

Dale Bojahra, a co-ordination officer with the BCWS, said the "dramatic increase in fire behaviour" of the Crater Creek and Gillanders Creek wildfires Tuesday evening explained why the agency had recommended to RDOS that sheltering in a place like the Cathedral Lakes Lodge was the best option for people trapped while an evacuation plan was being formed.

Bojahra noted there were fires and rockfalls reported on Ashnola River Road on Tuesday evening that the wildfire service deemed too dangerous for its crews to pass through to help evacuate people from the lodge.

"Based on that assessment — the movement of the fire [and] the location of the lodge — our recommendation to the local government and B.C. Parks was that the safest place for those folks would be to shelter at the lodge rather than attempting to transit the Ashnola River Road out to Highway 3," he said.

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But Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, with some parts of its reserves under evacuation order, expressed frustration at the decision to leave people stranded in Cathedral Lakes Lodge for nearly 12 hours, citing a similar situation had happened in 2018 due to the Placer Mountain wildfire.

"I'm very frustrated with this process about the decision to let things just go on their own — I was just up on site [on Tuesday] and noticed there's no helicopters.

"I don't want to see anyone get hurt," Crow said in the press conference.

WATCH | Chief Keith Crow questions why his community wasn't given enough warning: 

During a public update on wildfires burning in B.C.'s Interior, Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band questioned why his community wasn't given more warning and more resources as wildfires rapidly burned toward homes.

Tim Roberts, one of the district's directors and Emma Roberts's father, had been in communication with those at the lodge before the evacuation Wednesday afternoon.

He said he was concerned for his daughter Emma's predicament but was confident she could handle the challenges with composure.

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"She's a person that people were able to find solace in," he said. "She is a person that stays calm in the sense of crisis and is able to have people understand that they aren't in danger right now and that this is a safe place to be."

"She's a good girl. I'm just a proud dad."

Bracing for a cold front

VIDEO:

Wildfire crews across B.C. are bracing for a cold front from the northwest due Thursday that will meet a ridge of high-pressure air currently sitting over B.C., which has caused record-breaking temperatures and dry winds. 

The BCWS has said this will create even stronger winds, dry lightning and a greater potential for new fire starts.

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The agency's superintendent Neal McLoughlin released a public service announcement Wednesday, saying they were "very concerned" about the forecast.

"Our firefighting crews and suppression operations have been working very diligently to secure guard on active wildfires throughout the province," he said. "We would like to alert the public that there could be rapidly evolving fire behaviour and fire behaviour that could spread very quickly across the landscape."

WATCH | B.C. wildfire forecaster worries conditions are ripe for more fires: 

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.

In Keremeos, Bojahra said crews are preparing for what that could mean for the rapidly growing Crater Creek fire.

"Wind is incredibly impactful on wildfires, especially when it aligns with the slope," he said. "We'll be watching that very closely tomorrow afternoon."

He said wildfire service meteorologists have predicted the cold front will pass through the area around 5 p.m. Thursday, but cautioned the timing is still a rough estimate and is likely to change.

Corrections

VIDEO:
  • A previous version of this story stated that more than 100 people had been transported out by convoy from Cathedral Lakes Lodge on Wednesday. In fact, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen said 70 people had been taken by convoy and couldn't confirm whether any remaining people at the lodge had been rescued.

    Aug 17, 2023 12:03 PM PT

With files from CBC's Daybreak South and Brady Strachan and The Canadian Press

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