Evacuee describes 'absolute tornado of fire' that destroyed cabins north of Pemberton, B.C.


At least five structures are confirmed to have been destroyed by a fast-moving wildfire north of Pemberton, B.C., according to officials. 

The Downton Lake wildfire is burning out of control in the Bridge River Valley north of Pemberton and all properties in the area of Gun Lake and Lajoie Lake were ordered to evacuate Tuesday afternoon.

Hours after the initial order, officials said the situation had become “critical” and urged people to flee “immediately”

Jen Ford, chair of the Squamish-Lillooett District said the winds shifted suddenly and the blaze was burning in very steep terrain, which is difficult for firefighters to access.

“With the (access) road being very limited in its capacity, we needed people to move very quickly – so that’s why it went from an order to a critical order,” Ford told CTV News in an interview.

Ford confirmed there are “less than five confirmed structural losses” she said, noting “we are hearing that there are more.”

Evacuee Geoff Lewis was watching the blaze from the opposite side of the lake and told CTV News he could see a number of structures “fully engulfed” in flames.

“I would say I was half a mile from it and you could feel the radiant heat like you were standing in front of a pizza oven,” Lewis said. “The wind kicked up and it turned into an inferno, just an absolute tornado of fire descended down to the lakeshore, it happened very, very quickly.”

The blaze has grown to more than five times the size it was on Monday, when flames raced eastward on the steep northern hillsides above Gun Lake and its more than 200 cabins.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the BC Wildfire Service estimates that the fire has grown to 1,795 hectares.

“The safety of first responders and the public remains our collective top priority. This is a dynamic situation,” an online update says.

South Chilcotin Mountains Park has been evacuated and closed due to the fire, according to the BCWS.

The blaze has triggered a “full” response, according to the BCWS, which means “there is threat to public safety and/or property and other values, such as infrastructure or timber.”

With files from Lisa Steacy and The Canadian Press

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