Few people outside a handful in the Douglas Lake Ranch area were worried about a new fire when it started on July 13.
The White Rock Lake wildfire would go on to scorch more than 83,000 hectares and destroy dozens of homes across a broad swath of the Southern Interior.
It spanned multiple jurisdictions, from the Regional District of North Okanagan to the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, Regional District of Central Okanagan, Columbia-Shuswap Regional District, and Okanagan Indian Band lands.
Here is a timeline of key developments in the fire’s path to coming under control after the Labour Day weekend.
July 14: Evacuation alert issued for residents on Douglas Lake Ranch. The fire was estimated at 300 hectares in size after just one day, between Westwold and Merritt.
July 17: Evacuation alerts expand as the fire burns out of control at 2,500 hectares in size. Douglas Lake Road closed to public.
July 18: Properties near Westwold ordered to evacuate as fire moves quickly. Now an estimated 3,000 hectares in size. Lodging in Kamloops full due to other fires, evacuees told to go to Kelowna. Wind pushes fire growth on north side of fire. Four personnel, nine pieces of heavy equipment and three helicopters responding to the fire.
July 19: Evacuation order widens in the Westwold area. Twelve firefighters, three helicopters, and 11 pieces of heavy equipment now working on the blaze.
July 20: Monte Lake residents express fear as fire nears and concern that more resources were not put on it sooner. Fire now 4,300 hectares in size.
“We know we saw a lot of growth toward that community (Westwold) and unfortunately that is probably the way it is going to go in the short future here,” said fire information officer Mike McCulley.
July 20: TNRD issues more evacuation alerts. Air tankers hampered by high winds, heavy smoke and steep terrain.
July 21: Fire burns through canyons and valleys in difficult terrain. Now estimated at 7,401 hectares. Nineteen BC Wildfire Service firefighters assigned, supported by 11 personnel from local fire departments, RCMP, and 22 support staff.
July 23: Fire grows to an estimated 8,702 hectares.
July 25: High temperatures and increased winds pushed the White Rock Lake wildfire to grow quickly. Now estimated at 9,414 hectares. Fire camp set up at Salmon Lake Resort. One hundred firefighters and 13 support staff from Quebec arrive.
July 26: Evacuation alerts for recreation sites near Pinaus Lake and Bouleau Lake. Fire grows to an estimated 12,500 hectares with aggressive behaviour in the Sawmill Lake and Jimmy Lake areas.
July 27: Evacuation orders and alerts issued for properties in Salmon River Forest Service Road/Salmon Lake area. Extreme heat continues, fire now 17,900 hectares in size. East flank grows towards the Bouleau Lake area. Okanagan Indian Band issues evacuation alert for Beau Park, Six Mile, Komasket, Newport, Parker Cove, Louis Estates and Irish Road areas. Additional evacuations in Monte Lake, Westwold area. Fire departments across B.C. send personnel to assist.
July 28: BC Wildfire Service conducts planned ignitions along the east flank of the fire. Blaze is now estimated to be 20,000 hectares in size. Hydro lines impacted in Westwold area.
July 30: Central Okanagan Regional District issues evacuation alerts north of Sugarloaf Mountain. Fire estimated at 20,891 hectares as lightning in forecast. Extreme smoke grounds air support.
July 31: Wildfire estimated at 24,000 hectares with growth to the east and northeast, 10 millimetres of rain gives firefighters a reprieve on northern flank.
Aug 1: Most flights in and out of Kelowna International Airport over B.C. Day Long weekend cancelled due to heavy smoke. Armstrong uses IPE fairgrounds to house evacuees with livestock. Fire now estimated at 32,000 hectares in size, about 12.5 kilometres from western shores of Okanagan Lake. Evacuation order for large area of Westside Road and OKIB. City of Vernon activates Emergency Support Services Reception Centre.
Aug 3: Firefighter tent camp begins set up at Kin Racetrack grounds in Vernon.
Aug 4: RDCO expresses frustration as about half of Westshore Estates residents ignore evacuation order. Drivers warned not to stop on Highway 97 between Kamloops and Vernon. Entire community of Falkland under evacuation order.
Aug. 5: Fire crosses Highway 97 and sweeps through Monte Lake area. Multiple structures lost. City of Kamloops places Campbell Creek, Barnhartvale and Dallas on evacuation alert.
Aug 6: Village of Chase on evacuation alert. Fire burns up to a couple of kilometres from Okanagan Lake. Fire crews stretched between Falkland and Westside as strong winds threaten homes. Extensive damage confirmed in Monte Lake and Paxton Valley after the fire jumped Highway 97 and swept through the area. BC Wildfire Service calls situation “incredibly volatile.” Highway 97 closed between Salmon River Road and Monte Creek. Westside Road also closed. White Rock Lake fire now considered highest priority wildfire in the province. Most of the City of Vernon under evacuation alert as ember shower feared.
Aug. 6: Fire now 55,000 hectares. Tactical evacuation in the Six Mile Creek area. Public urged to “maintain heightened awareness of the evolving situation over the next 24-hours.” Gusting winds threaten homes as evacuation order issued for Killiney Beach, Ewings Landing, Fintry, Valley of the Sun, La Casa and Shalal Road areas.
Aug 8: Overnight rain brings some much needed relief to firefighters. Beau Park Road residents who stayed behind confirm multiple structures lost.
Aug 10: Residents of Monte Lake say they were left on their own to save what they could. “There was a lack of response and a lack of help,” said one resident. “All the residents of this valley have been screaming for help from BC Wildfire, but we have been all but neglected.”
Aug 11: Boaters urged to stay away as some interfere with helicopters filling buckets in Okanagan Lake. Structures said to be lost in Bouleau Lake area.
Aug 12: Planned ignitions on northern flank of the fire. Evacuation orders reissued for the Fintry, Valley of the Sun, La Casa and Shalal Road areas. BCWS incident commander Mark Healey says in nearly three decades of fighting fires, he has never seen the forest so dry. Ash falls in Kelowna. Fire now four kilometres north of Fintry. Fire just under 58,000 hectares.
Aug 13: Evacuation alert expanded southeast of Falkland as crews conduct planned ignitions. B.C. government urges tourists not to visit the North Okanagan. High winds forecast for weekend. Evacuation orders downgraded in Westwold and Monte Lake. Highway 97 reopens.
Aug 14: Devastation in Monte Lake becomes clearer with an estimated 28 homes destroyed. Mass-water system put in place above Westside Road homes.
Aug 15: Day turns to night in Spallumcheen as a massive cloud of smoke turns street lights on by 4 p.m. Wildfire Service says fire took “a significant run” along Westside Sunday night with winds up to 60 km/h.
Aug 16: Central Okanagan Emergency Operations says about 70 properties along Westside Road “significantly damaged.” Little Kingdom store on Westside Road confirmed destroyed.
Aug 18: Anger and confusion over evacuation of West Kelowna seniors home residents as they are forced to wait for hours on a plane at Kelowna Airport for flight to the Lower Mainland.
Aug 20: White Rock Lake wildfire a “story of two fires,” says BC Wildfire Service. West flank receives rain, east tinder dry. Fire now 81,139 hectares, but has not seen significant growth in the 24 to 48 hours. Residents push for return to their homes.
Aug 23: Planned ignition on northeast flank sends tower of smoke above OKIB, visible across North Okanagan. Information session set for Westside property owners. Westide residents whose homes damaged by the fire escorted on a tour of the damage.
Aug. 24: Media escorted on bus tour of devastation in Westside fire zone, 78 properties “directly impacted.” Fire continues to be classified as out of control at 80,951 hectares.
Aug 26: Wildfire Service firefighter not seriously injured after taking 100-foot tumble and being airlifted from scene.
Aug 27: Canadian Armed Forces members move from Oliver, where they had been fighting the Thomas Creek wildfire, to Vernon to assist with the White Rock Lake wildfire. More troops also come from 100 Mile House.
Aug 28: TNRD confirms fire destroyed at least 36 structures in Monte Lake, Paxton Valley area.
Aug 30: Massive controlled burn west of Vernon brings fire down to control lines on northeast of the fire, reducing the risk of growth and further damage to structures.
Sept 2: Evacuation orders and alerts rescinded as fire now classified as “held.”
Sept 3: More evacuation orders lifted by RDNO, OKIB. BC Wildfire Service reminds returning evacuees “extreme dangers” remain in the fire zone.
Sept 5: Canadian Armed Forces personnel head home.
Sept 7: RDCO lifts local state of emergency. Remaining evacuation alerts rescinded. White Rock Lake wildfire now classified as under control.