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Central Okanagan wildfire losses hit properties, people

Lake Okanagan Resort among the largest properties damaged to date

The McDougall Creek wildfire is quickly dwarfing the Okanagan Mountain Park blaze of 2003 in terms of significance, with impacts to Okanagan real estate and the broader economy growing steadily.

The largest loss of the past 24 hours has been Lake Okanagan Resort, a Westside property acquired by Chinese investors in 2014 as a destination for club members.

The 217-room resort includes a 158-slip marina and the only licensed beach on Lake Okanagan, as well as a nine-hole golf course and 15 acres of development lands.

But the McDougall Creek wildfire dealt catastrophic damage to the resort in the wee hours of Aug. 18, with photos provided to Castanet showing significant damage to the resort buildings and amenities.

The extent of the losses remains unknown, given the active and aggressive nature of the wildfire that has prevented access.

The resort itself has yet to post a notice regarding the status of the premises. A statement on its homepage simply states that the resort is under an evacuation alert. “Please check on Central Okanagan emergency operation website for further updates,” it notes.

The fire has restricted travel to the Okanagan for tourism and other purposes. Hwy 97, including the William R. Bennett Bridge, is subject to closures, and passenger flights to and from Kelowna International Airport are grounded.

Okanagan agrifood operations are also impacted.

Receiving stations for BC Tree Fruit Co-operative in Kelowna and Winfield have been closed until Monday due to the extremely aggressive and unpredictable wildfires.

Wineries have also shut tasting rooms, according to Wine Growers BC, in view of the McDougall Creek and Lake Country wildfires. The Okanagan is home to 222 wineries an 86 per cent of the province’s vineyards, of which 247 acres are in Lake Country.

“Many [are] closing temporarily to visitors out of caution for their staff and guests, and to allow emergency services unimpeded access to the surrounding area,” the association said.

A total of 386 wildfires are currently burning in B.C., with 39 in the Kamloops Fire Centre that includes the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys.

In addition to West Kelowna, the Twin Lakes community west of Okanagan Falls has seen structures lost to the current fires.

A provincial briefing reported that 4,500 people province-wide were under evacuation orders as of early afternoon on Aug. 18, a 10-fold increase from a day earlier. However, B.C. Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Minister Bowinn Ma warned, “The situation is still evolving."

Additional evacuation orders were issued in the Central Okanagan during the course of the briefing.

Approximately 2,500 properties are under evacuation orders as a result of the McDougall Creek wildfire alone.

“It’s moving faster than we can effectively put firefighting resources on them,” said Cliff Chapman, wildfire operations director with the BC Wildfire Service, of the provincial wildfire situation.

Chapman said fires are “moving extremely fast, at rates not typically seen in British Columbia.”

The extremely aggressive behaviour of the fires means the province is discouraging property owners from returning to fire zones to check on the status of their properties.

With files from Colin Dacre, Castanet