Properties destroyed as latest B.C. wildfire flares, forcing urgent evacuations

Properties destroyed as latest B.C. wildfire flares, forcing urgent evacuations
The Downton Lake wildfire near Gold Bridge B.C., burns toward the north shore of Gun Lake in this Tuesday, August 1, 2023 handout photo.

Roughly a dozen properties in a popular southern British Columbia recreational community have been destroyed as the simmering Downton Lake wildfire, 110 kilometres northwest of Whistler, has taken a devastating run.

Flames from the lightning-caused wildfire had made slow but steady progress through steep, wooded terrain at the western end of Gun Lake since the blaze was sparked on July 13, but suddenly flared late Monday.

An evacuation order covering the more than 200 properties around the lake was issued Tuesday and quickly upgraded to critical, urging the many seasonal and handful of permanent residents to leave for Lillooet or Whistler.

Evacuation alerts were also extended to areas north of Gun Lake, including Tyaughton Lake and the Tyax Resort, as the nearly 16-square-kilometre fire almost quadrupled in size since Monday.

RELATED: Firefighters tackle wildfire on southern Vancouver Island

The destruction and evacuation orders and alerts came as most residents of the southern Okanagan town of Osoyoos were returning to their homes after a wildfire raced north from Washington state on Saturday, burning to within a few metres of some properties before a wind shift spared the community.

The Gun Lake and Osoyoos wildfires are among more than 360 active wildfires across B.C., including 16 the B.C. Wildfire Service says were sparked in the last day.

Eighty-one year-old Gun Lake resident John Rose said he intends to stay as long as possible to keep the sprinklers running on the roof of his log house and on the heritage log cabins on the neighbouring property built by his parents in the 1940s.

“This isn’t heroic,” said Rose, a retired BC Parks Service ranger, whose property is across the lake from the flames.

“I just don’t think anyone else could handle this set up.”

The flare up of the Downton Lake blaze happened just as the young Ontario firefighter who died last week in northeastern B.C., was identified as 25-year-old Zak Muise.

An online obituary posted by the firefighting contractor who employed Muise called him a “vital member” of the crew.

RCMP have said he was killed when his heavy-duty ATV rolled over a steep drop on a gravel road in a remote area about 150 kilometres north of Fort St. John.

A funeral is scheduled for later this month in Simcoe, Ont., and the obituary also said a public memorial was being planned in B.C.

Muise was the fourth Canadian wildland firefighter to die this year, and the second to die in B.C.

On July 13, 19-year-old Devyn Gale died while combating a wildfire near her hometown of Revelstoke, B.C., after she was hit by a falling tree.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 2, 2023.

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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