WATCH ABOVE: Global Calgary’s Jordan Witzel updates the situation in Midway after being evacuated with his family Thursday night from Rock Creek.
A Rock Creek evacuee describes a harrowing scene on Thursday night, as he had to grab what he could and run from a rapidly moving wildfire.
A fire 1300 hectares in size and growing has caused the evacuation of hundreds of residents and campers in the Rock Creek area. The fire, which was first reported 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, is near the junction of Highway 3 and Highway 33, 40 km east of Osoyoos.
Terry Ashe lives on Highway 33 in Rock Creek. He said at around 2 p.m., he noticed the smoke and decided to go for a drive to see how bad the situation was.
“I got down to the provincial park and fire was burning in the provincial park, and they turned me around there and said no one was getting past there.”
He said by the time he returned home, things had gone from bad to worse.
“Then the wind started picking up and I could see the smoke coming closer towards us so I said to the wife, we better pack some stuff and get ready to get out of here because this is not looking good.”
Firefighters arrived shortly after, telling him and his wife they had to go. They were relocated to a staging area nearby, where they re-united with their neighbours. Ashe said another evacuee described the scene behind them as a “firestorm.”
READ MORE: Rock Creek and Westbridge evacuated; 800 hectare fire threatens homes
Ashe said the hardest part was having to leave the home he built, not knowing if he’d be able to return to it.
“I would have stayed if they would have let me. I would have tried to fight it somehow or another but there’s not really much chance when there’s a wall of flame coming towards you.”
Some evacuees still unaccounted for
Ashe and about 90 residents from Rock Creek and Westbridge fled to Kelowna, where an emergency reception centre has been set up at the Salvation Army Church on Sutherland Ave.
Beryl Itani, the region’s Emergency Social Services Director, said it hasn’t been easy to find accommodations for everyone, but they managed to in the end.
“We’re a little bit short of hotel rooms, but we did manage to find a place for everybody tonight,” Itani said.
However, not all of the evacuees have been accounted for. Itani said they are still trying to locate about six people who have not checked in with relatives or at any of the emergency shelters.
“Everybody I’m sure is safe and has a place to stay,” he said. “They just either haven’t registered or we just don’t have a phone number to connect with them.”
Itani said about 300 more evacuees have gone to Midway because of the closing of the highway, adding that some people spent the night in gymnasiums, while others made their way to Grand Forks.
“It’s been quite traumatic because a lot of people from the Westbridge area in particular that came here a lot of them think —; they don’t know for sure —; but they think they’ve lost their homes. And so that’s a real sad situation for them and they have no way of finding out because the roads are closed and they can’t get back in,” said Itani.
Three four-person attack crews, one 20-person unit, six helicopters, two air tankers and heavy equipment were battling the blaze. The Midway Fire Department was also responding.
Bernard said the cause of the fire is still under investigation and there is heavy smoke billowing from the area. A 20-person crew will remain on site overnight assisting with structure protection.
For complete coverage on the fires in B.C. head to Fire Watch BC
About 1,200 customers were without power in Rock Creek, Westbridge, Beaverdell, Bridesville and Christian Valley, said Fortis B.C. spokeswoman Nicole Bogdanovic.
She said crews could not begin working on the outage until it is declared safe.
“Our crews were directed by emergency officials to evacuate themselves from the area until morning.”
Highway 3 is closed in both directions two kilometres west of Rock Creek because of the fire, while RCMP say Highway 33 is also closed.
DriveBC says there are no detours and no estimated time of re-opening.
~ with files from Justin McElroy and Angela Jung