All eyes on weather as 2nd wildfire grows closer to Fort Nelson

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Weather conditions are expected to play a crucial role as firefighters continue to battle a wildfire west of Fort Nelson, B.C., in the province’s northeast on Wednesday.

The Parker Lake wildfire is burning over an area of approximately 84 square kilometres as of 9 p.m. local time on Tuesday, around 2.5 kilometres from Fort Nelson. Its rapid growth on Friday caused more than 4,700 people to leave the community and the nearby Fort Nelson First Nation.

While calmer conditions on Tuesday helped firefighters, who said the blaze grew south and away from the community, things could change rapidly as unsettled weather is forecast for the region.

In a video update posted 10 p.m Wednesday, the B.C Wildfire Service said that while the Parker Lake fire had not grown substantially on Tuesday, the same could not be said for the Patry Creek fire, which reignited earlier this year after going dormant at the end of 2023.

WATCH | Fires from 2023 reigniting in B.C.’s northeast: 

Holdover fires part of wildfire threat in B.C.’s northeast

1 day ago

Duration 1:55

As wildfire threatens Fort Nelson, B.C., from the west, there are also much larger fires burning to the east of the town. They’re known as holdover fires — ones that never completely went out last year. Chad Pawson has more on those fires.

Fire behaviour specialist Ben Boghean said the fire had experienced an “aggressive rate of spread” through Monday and into Tuesday morning.

“This aggressive rate of spread and fire growth now places the Patry Creek 25 kilometres north of Fort Nelson,” Boghean said.

The fire was measured at around 465 square kilometres as of Tuesday evening, and had been upgraded to a wildfire of note, defined by the service as a fire that is “highly visible” or poses “a potential threat to public safety.” 

Boghean said as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the fire did not pose a risk to Fort Nelson but warned “that can rapidly change if the area receives strong northerly winds and continuous dry conditions.”

Fluid situation

Premier David Eby told reporters on Tuesday that the situation was still very fluid, and very dependent on weather conditions in B.C.’s parched northeast. The B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS) said Tuesday that conditions in the Fort Nelson fire zone are still very receptive to fire growth.

The BCWS and Rob Fraser, the mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality (NRRM) which includes Fort Nelson, had both warned last weekend that the fire could have hit the community if winds pushed it eastward — but those anticipated winds ultimately did not come to pass.

“If we can get to Wednesday or Thursday, where there’s predictions of rain, we’re going to really be able to corral this thing,” Fraser said in an update around 9 p.m. MT on Tuesday.

Environment Canada says a low pressure system will bring up to 20 millimetres of rain, and possibly thunderstorms, to the area near Fort Nelson on Wednesday — but warns that most of the precipitation may likely lie south of Fort Nelson.

Very large plumes of smoke emerge from the ground due to a wildfire.
The west flank of the Parker Lake fire near Fort Nelson, B.C., is pictured on Monday afternoon. The fire remains around 2.5 kilometres away from the northeast B.C. town, wildfire officials say. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

Fort Nelson is located around 1,000 kilometres north of Vancouver and around 800 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

The forecasts that winds would blow the fire closer to Fort Nelson came as sobering news to the thousands of evacuees who are spread across northeast B.C., with more than 1,000 of them in Fort St. John.

“The wind didn’t blow the way [it] was supposed to,” evacuee Doug Park told CBC News on Tuesday. “Yesterday, they figured by 6:30 there might not have been a Fort Nelson anymore.”

“It’s supposed to rain the next three days. I’m really hoping we get the rain because it would help.”

Eby said Tuesday afternoon that no homes have yet been lost to the fire, with Fraser later saying that firefighters have been so focused on fighting the blaze they have not yet been able to assess any impacts on structures.

“It’s just not safe for people to come back yet. The worst could still happen,” Fraser said. “We’re not out of the woods.”

WATCH | Some wildfire evacuees told to depart: 

Fort St. John close to limit for accepting evacuees

7 hours ago

Duration 2:31

Thousands of evacuees from Fort Nelson remain out of their homes, scattered across northern B.C., as the Parker Lake wildfire continues to threaten the community. The city of Fort St. John has swelled with the evacuees. CBC’s Michelle Ghoussoub reports from there.

Some evacuees in Fort St. John told to leave

Evacuees from Fort Nelson were initially directed to Fort St. John, about 380 kilometres southeast by road.

That city is also receiving evacuees from the nearby Doig River First Nation after they were ordered to leave their homes Monday due to a wildfire spreading near the community.

As a result, hotels in the city are nearly full — and some evacuees have been told to leave as hotels look to honour pre-made bookings.

Those who are able have been encouraged to head to neighbouring Dawson Creek or Chetwynd, or travel farther to Prince George, another 437 kilometres by road.

B.C. is experiencing a record-low snowpack and drought has plagued much of the province — especially northeast B.C. — for months. Data from the B.C. River Forecast Centre predicts a long, dry fire season.


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