The entire Upper Bridge River Valley area is now ordered to evacuate due to wildfire threat.
The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) issued the expanded evacuation order for Electoral Area A early Friday afternoon, Aug. 18 "due to immediate danger to life safety" posed by the Downton Lake and Casper Creek wildfires burning in the area. The order now applies to all SLRD properties in the rural Electoral Area A west of Terzaghi Dam.
Anyone in the area must leave immediately, and head south towards Whistler via the Hurley River Forest Service Road. The Lillooet-Pioneer Road 40 is closed at the far east end of Carpenter Lake.
In a provincial briefing on Friday afternoon, B.C.'s director of wildfire operations Cliff Chapman confirmed the Downton Lake fire has seen significant growth, while the Casper Creek fire has jumped Carpenter Lake and Road 40, the sole access route into Gold Bridge.
"We continue to see structure protection and structure protection personnel and apparatus deployed on these fires at large, to do our best to protect the homes and cottages that are on these lakes," he said.
Specifically, the evacuation order concerns properties in the Gun Lake, Lajoie Lake, Slim Creek areas; near Marshall Lake and north of Carpenter Lake, in Gold Bridge, Brexton and Bralorne, and around Tyaughton Lake and Gun Creek Road.
The area was previously subject to an evacuation alert. An evacuation order had already been issued for properties around Gun Lake on Aug. 2, and around Tyaughton Lake on Thursday, Aug. 17. The South Chilcotin Mountains Park and all Rec Sites and Trails near the wildfire zone have also been closed.
RCMP officers will be expediting the order, according to the district.
Evacuees who are not permanent residents of Area A are encouraged to return to their primary residences. If that's not an option, the district recommends making arrangements to stay with friends and family. Anyone requiring emergency accommodations can contact the Mickey McDougal Rec Centre in North Vancouver by phone at 778-338-6305 to register.
Anyone in need of transportation assistance to leave the area can contact the SLRD's emergency operations centre on-call Duty Manager at 604-356-3082.
Residents are instructed to shut off all gas and electrical appliances aside from refrigerators and freezers, close all windows and doors, and latch, but not lock, gates before they leave.
"Gather your family and, if you have room, take a neighbour or someone needing transportation. Do not use more vehicles than you have to," the order reads. "Take critical items (medicine, purse, wallet, and keys) only if they are immediately available."
Pets should kept in kennels or on a leash while evacuating.
According to the 2021 census, 305 people lived full-time in the Upper Bridge River Valley, located about 75 kilometres north of Pemberton, and approximately 100 northeast of Whistler.
The region's Downton Lake fire is currently burning 2,603 hectares, according to the BC Wildfire Service. At least three homes have so far been lost to the blaze, which is suspected to have been sparked by lightning on July 13.
BC Wildfire Service said air tankers provided retardant along eastern flanks of the wildfire on Friday, as helicopters continue dumping buckets of water over the flames as wind and visibility allow. Officials expect to see fire behaviour increase as strong winds continue to blow Friday.
A crew of 85 firefighters and support personnel are assigned to the incident.
"Overnight, ground personnel and structure protection crews worked to triage and implement sprinkler systems where safe to do so. These operations will continue in areas most imminently at risk," the BC Wildfire Service explained.
There are 53 more firefighters and support personnel battling the nearby Casper Creek fire, another lightning-caused blaze burning in the Anderson Lake and Seton Portage area about 24 kilometres west of Lillooet. It grew to 6,520 hectares as of Friday afternoon, spreading rapidly from the 4,650 hectares reported on Wednesday, Aug. 16.
Together, the the two fires now make up what the BC Wildfire Service is calling the Bendor Range Complex. There are 13 helicopters currently battling the flames.
British Columbia's worst wildfire season in history grew even more dire this week after what officials call "extreme" wildfire growth across the province Thursday and Friday, due to a weather shift that manifested in high winds and dry lightning. Homes were still burning in West Kelowna on Friday after a devastating wildfire destroyed a significant number of properties overnight, in a battle that the city's fire chief likened to "100 years of firefighting." As fires continue to rage across B.C.'s southern Interior, British Columbians are urged to avoid visiting the area.
More information is available on the SLRD's website, while notices will be posted through the SLRD Alert Messaging service. Subscribe to SLRD Alert for free at slrd.bc.ca/slrdalert to receive emergency notifications via email, text messages, and voicemail.