2 hospitalized, buildings destroyed in northwest B.C. grass fire

Two people were hospitalized and several homes and vehicles destroyed in a fast-moving fire that started in the Gitxsan community of Gitwangak in northwest B.C. on Monday.

Local leaders say the damage serves as an early warning of the “bone-dry” conditions facing much of the province, putting communities on alert for the possibility of another devastating wildfire season.

“There was vehicles exploding,” said Donald Bolton, a Gitwangak member and one of the people called in to respond to the fire.

WATCH | Footage of flames spreading from building to building: 

Houses burn in fast-moving fire in northwest B.C.

2 hours ago

Duration 2:04

A fast-moving fire damaged several buildings in the Gitxsan community of Gitwangak in northwest B.C. on April 21, 2024. Jacob Beaton captured footage of the flames spreading from building to building.

According to a post from the office of the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs, who neighbour Gitwangak, “a grass fire fuelled by bone-dry conditions and heavy winds spiralled out of control within minutes,” on Monday, with members of the Gitanyow, Gitwangak and Gitsegukla fire departments responding, along with the B.C. Wildfire Service.

The Gitwangak Fire Department says two firefighters were hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

Gitwangak is about 170 kilometres northeast of Prince Rupert and 780 kilometres northwest of Vancouver.

‘House after house’ engulfed by flames: witness

Noah Beaton was one of the first people on the scene after he noticed the smell of smoke.

“From it being started to it engulfing one building, it took about two-and-a-half minutes,” he told CBC Radio West host Sarah Penton. 

Bolton said by the time he arrived the fire had spread “about two, three kilometres.”

A person sprays down a burned-up vehicle
More than a dozen vehicles were damaged or destroyed by the flames, eyewitnesses said. (Jacob Beatton)

Beaton said with heavy winds, the fire quickly spread and “engulfed house after house,” which Bolton said had no one living in them at the time.

The pair also counted an abandoned recreational building, several sheds, a trailer and more than a dozen vehicles destroyed or heavily damaged by the flames.

Radio West12:50First responders to a brush fire on the Gitwangak First Nation in Northwest BC share the impact of the fast-moving brush fire in the community

<p>First responders to a brush fire on the Gitwangak First Nation in Northwest BC share the impact of the fast-moving brush fire in the community</p>

Bolton said it took several hours to get things under control, as ashes shot into the air threatening other parts of the community.

In all, he said, three fire trucks and about 50 people responded. 

“We are sure grateful,” Bolton said of the response, adding that the incident was a “wake-up call” for the challenges in the months ahead.

B.C. preparing for another damaging season

The B.C. Wildfire Service directed questions about the fire to the Gitwangak Fire Department, who on Monday posted their thanks to everyone who helped respond to the blaze. 

The fire department has not provided an update on the damage or a possible cause of the fire, but they have posted a reminder to their community about “how dangerous it is to light any kind of fire and how fast it can take off.”

People in a truck, one using oxygen.
Multiple people were treated on site for smoke inhalation, witnesses say, and a post from Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs says two were sent to hospital. (Jacob Beaton)

That’s a message that’s been echoed by officials throughout B.C.’s Interior and north, with open burning bans in place for much of the region.

Drought conditions still cover much of B.C., and fire officials are worried about another challenging season after last year’s record destruction, when fires scorched more than 28,000 square kilometres, destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced thousands of people.

A wildfire evacuation alert issued in the tiny town of Endako, northwest of Prince George, has been rescinded, while another alert for the Burgess Creek wildfire in the Cariboo remains in place, with residents told to be ready to leave on short notice.

The 118-square-kilometre Burgess Creek fire about 600 kilometres north of Vancouver continues to burn out of control, according to the wildfire service website, while the 25-hectare blaze that had been threatening Endako, a further 400 kilometres northwest, has now been contained.

There have been 177 fires in B.C. this year, burning 20.55 square kilometres. Of the 115 now burning, 44 started in the third week of April. 


Posted in CBC