MONTE LAKE, B.C. — An aggressive wildfire burning in the Central Okanagan region is forcing people in another 975 properties to leave their homes.
The Regional District of Central Okanagan issued an evacuation order Friday night for the properties on the west side of Okanagan Lake north of Kelowna citing unpredictable winds affecting the White Rock Lake wildfire.
"Residents from approximately 975 properties previously on Alert along Westside Road are now under Evacuation Order and must leave their homes and campsites immediately," says a release.
The affected area runs south from Ewings Landing to the south end of La Casa Lakeside Resort.
People who require help with food, lodging and emergency support services registration are being told to visit a reception centre in Kelowna.
Meanwhile, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District issued an evacuation order Friday night for 98 properties due to a different wildfire burning near July Mountain southwest of Merritt.
"Because of the potential danger to life and safety, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District has issued an evacuation order," a release said.
"If you are in the described area, you must leave immediately."
Earlier Friday, British Columbia Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth had harsh words for people who refuse to follow evacuation orders, after the community of Monte Lake was devastated by a raging wildfire.
The White Rock Lake wildfire was estimated at about 450 square kilometres in size, and the BC Wildfire Service said it remained out of control.
Farnworth said a small group of residents in the Monte Lake area refused to leave their homes and had to be rescued by firefighters with the BC Wildfire Service after they were surrounded by fire.
"These brave firefighters very nearly paid with their lives," Farnworth told a news conference.
"This experience was traumatic for all involved and should never have happened."
While the province has some penalties it can issue for not following evacuation orders, including a $10,000 fine, Farnworth said it hasn't used them in the past
“They are putting their lives in danger. They are putting the lives of firefighters in danger. They are hindering efforts to get the wildfires under control," he said.
No casualties or missing people have been reported, Farnworth added.
"While it is too early and dangerous to do any assessment, witnesses are reporting there have been structural losses in some areas."
Monte Lake is a recreational community of about 2,600 people. There's an RV park, numerous recreational properties and the now-closed provincial park is nearby.
Over Thursday night and through Friday morning, thousands of people from communities including Monte Creek, Falkland, Westwold and the Okanagan Indian Band were told to evacuate, making up 2,500 properties. Several thousand more were on evacuation alert, including parts of Kamloops, Farnworth said.
He also said decisions "may need to be made" to move fire crews out of harm's way as the fire blazes out of control.
Katrine Conroy, B.C. forests minister, said the fire season is one of the most challenging B.C. has ever experienced.
"We know we're on the front lines of climate change history right now," Conroy said.
"The conditions are so extreme. The landscape is so dry. And the heat and drought are extremely severe," she added.
The fire, which has been burning for three weeks, jumped Highway 97, about 40 kilometres southeast of Kamloops, then swept through Monte Lake.
Ken Gillis, chairman of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, said he was told damage is extensive in Monte Lake and through nearby Paxton Valley
"I understand from BC Wildfire that this fire moved 18 kilometres in a matter of eight hours," said Gillis.
"I've talked to a number of firefighters who said this year's fires are behaving in a manner that they have never seen before. They're just exceedingly aggressive and it's almost impossible to get ahead of them."
Tracy Hughes with the Columbia Shuswap Regional District said homeowners may think they are helping by staying, but they make the loss of their property more likely by impeding the work of firefighters.
"(Crews) cannot use water bombers, they can't use helicopters, if they know there are people in those areas," said Hughes.
"So, for goodness' sakes people, get out. If you are on an evacuation order, your life is in jeopardy and you need to leave now."
An official with the BC Wildfire Service said further growth of the fire was expected as winds gusting to 40 km/h were expected through Friday.
It was just over one month ago that a wildfire raced through the village of Lytton, killing two people, destroying most of the community and causing an estimated $78 million in damage.
On Friday, there were more than 300 wildfires burning in the province with more than 20 added in the last two days, the wildfire service said.
The latest statistics from the Forests Ministry show just over 5,800 square kilometres have been charred in B.C. since the start of the wildfire season on April 1.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2021.
(With files from CHNL)
The Canadian Press