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Evacuation orders near Osoyoos, B.C. partially rescinded as fire grows away from town

Hundreds of people who live in and around Osoyoos, B.C. can now return home after favourable winds pushed the Eagle Bluff wildfire west.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen announced on Monday afternoon that 192 properties are now under evacuation order, down from 732.

Over 2,600 properties remain on alert.

Those on alert are urged to “remain vigilant and be prepared in case conditions change,” RDOS Emergency Operations Centre spokesperson Erick Thompson said.

The wildfire has grown to nearly 1,500 hectares on the Canadian side of the border since Sunday, but that growth was mostly on the west flank of the fire, away from the Town of Osoyoos, BC Wildfire Service information officer Shaelee Stearns explained.

Favourable winds “blew the fire back into itself,” over the mountain in the northeast, she said.

“This fire has been going for less than 48 hours, it feels like about two weeks, I’m sure, for everybody who has been working on it, but that’s a pretty amazing feat to have cleared up a lot of what we saw on Saturday night from Osoyoos,” said Mayor Sue McKortoff.

She noted that water restrictions are still in place to conserve water for the firefighting effort, and that the forecast calls for hot and dry conditions for some time.

Transportation officials also rescinded the travel advisory on a 47 kilometre stretch of Highway 3 between Keremos and Osoyoos on Monday.

And McKortoff said the town is “open for business,” with every motel open and most of them full.

Winds have been a key factor in the battle to save Osoyoos, with Environment Canada calling for northwest winds through Monday before gusts of 20 kilometres per hour were forecast to ease late in the day.

The BC Wildfire Service says that helped push the Eagle Bluff wildfire away from Osoyoos, less than two days after flames sparked in Washington state and raced over the border.

On the U.S. side, the fire grew to over 4,000 hectares on Sunday, according to Washington state wildfire officials, and three primary structures and one secondary structure were destroyed.

On Monday morning, U.S. authorities said the fire was “quieter,” with evacuation orders downgraded to alerts in Oroville, WA.

Stearns said 50 firefighters are still working around the clock on the blaze, focusing mostly on its eastern flank, closest to Osoyoos.

The fire crossed the U.S.-Canada border Saturday afternoon and pushed closer to the town, making for a tense weekend in the heart of wine country.

"It's impressive. It's scary, but it's fascinating to watch how fast it moves,” said Terry Craig, an Osoyoos resident.

Craig described just how quickly he watched the hillside behind his home go up in flames over the weekend.

“You'll be watching it and then about 100 meters ahead, a spark will happen. Another tree will go up and the main bulk of the fire catches up to that. It was moving so fast north,” he said.

Frustration grew on Osoyoos Lake when boaters hindered firefighting efforts.

Videos on social media showed water bombers having to avoid people recreating on the water.

"It’s inconvenient for some people, but imagine those who are out on evacuation order. Their homes are being threatened and the fire operations have to stop because someone wanted to be in a boat,” said Thompson on Sunday.

The Eagle Bluff fire is one of more than 350 active blazes in the province, according to the BC Wildfire Service, with just under 200 classified as out of control and 14 ranked as fires of note that are either highly visible or pose potential threats to public safety.

The fight to save Osoyoos came in spite of the wildfire danger rating having fallen sharply in recent weeks because of rain and cooler weather in most areas of B.C., except the southern and southeast corners.

With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories

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