Evacuees in northeast B.C. escape raging wildfire

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  • Residents of Fort Nelson, as well as the Fort Nelson First Nation, have been told to leave their homes immediately due to the nearby Parker Lake wildfire.
  • The fire was about 12 kilometres west of Fort Nelson when the order was issued, shortly before 7:30 p.m. PT Friday. It has grown exponentially, and is now within 3.5 kilometres of the town.
  • Evacuees are being told to drive approximately four hours south to Fort St. John’s North Peace Arena, located at 9805 96 Avenue.
  • Those who cannot drive themselves are urged to call 250-775-0933 for support. For emergencies, dial 911.
  • Learn more about how to find the full list of wildfires, highway closures and evacuation orders and alerts.

Thousands of people are out of their homes in the northeast B.C. community of Fort Nelson, and the Fort Nelson First Nation, as an out-of-control wildfire is burning within kilometres of the town.

The Parker Lake wildfire was first detected just northwest of the community of about 3,600 people, on Friday around 5:25 p.m. PT. It ballooned in size from half-a-square kilometre to nearly 17 square kilometres by Saturday morning.

The blaze sent plumes of smoke toward the community, amid an uptick in fire activity across the province due to high temperatures, with the B.C. Wildfire Service saying the blaze was within three-and-a-half kilometres of the town on Saturday morning.

Thousands of people had to flee the fire and head south to the town of Fort St. John after an evacuation order was issued just before 7:30 p.m. PT on Friday.

“It was a crazy drive, pretty smoky,” said Deborah Erskine, who had to evacuate with her child Nova. “They’ve managed to keep the fire away from town as far as I know … It was nose-to-nose traffic to get here last night.”

While the drive normally takes around four hours, Erskine said it took nearly six hours to get to Fort St. John — arriving in the town around 3 a.m. PT after a “terrible” drive being blanketed by smoke.

WATCH | Evacuee describes fleeing the area: 

B.C. woman describes ’emotional drain’ of evacuating home due to wildfire

24 minutes ago

Duration 1:22

Sharon Systad, who was forced from her home in Fort Nelson, B.C., with her husband and their pets, recalls ‘looking back and seeing how big that plume of smoke was’ and credits their emergency preparation for helping them evacuate from their home quickly.

 Anyone with the means to travel further is urged to go another 440 kilometres south to Prince George, B.C., where a reception centre has been opened for people fleeing Fort Nelson, the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality (NRRM) said Saturday morning.

The evacuation order is the biggest one so far this year in B.C.’s early wildfire season, with the town having around 3,400 people as of the latest census.

Officials have long been worried about a “challenging” wildfire season this year, as a months-long drought persists provincewide and hot, dry conditions are forecast through the summer.

WATCH | Mayor says Fort Nelson evacuation went well: 

Mayor hopes for best as wildfire threatens Fort Nelson

3 hours ago

Duration 2:41

A fast-growing wildfire has moved within 10 kilometres of the community of Fort Nelson. Mayor Rob Fraser is urging residents to leave as crews work to stop the flames.

NRRM Mayor Rob Fraser told CBC News Saturday morning that the evacuation of the town went well, and most people had left.

“I am not aware — in my 40 years of being in and around Fort Nelson — that we’ve ever had to evacuate the entire community,” he said.

Fort Nelson is located near the B.C.-Yukon border, about 1,600 kilometres northeast of Vancouver and 500 kilometres north of Prince George.

WATCH | The fire near Fort Nelson: 

Wildfire burns near Fort Nelson, B.C.

17 hours ago

Duration 0:25

A rapidly-advancing wildfire has forced residents of the entire community of Fort Nelson and Fort Nelson First Nation to evacuate. Smoke from the flames could be seen earlier in the day.

High winds challenge firefighters

Fraser had earlier told CBC News that the fire was sparked after high winds caused a tree to fall onto a power line, causing it to catch fire. The winds then whipped up the fire to the extent that NRRM firefighters couldn’t contain it themselves.

Sarah Hall, a B.C. Wildfire Service information officer, said wind gusts of up to 70 km/h accelerated fire growth drastically on Friday evening.

“The fire is reaching the top of the tree canopies, and also projecting forward,” she said on Saturday morning, describing the fire behaviour as Rank 5, the second-most extreme on the province’s scale.

Smoke on a highway.
Heavy smoke is visible from an out of control wildfire that prompted instructions for several neighbourhoods in Fort Nelson to evacuate on Friday night. (Submitted by Angela Klondike)

The continuous drought conditions in the region led to a high fire risk, which combined with the high winds and temperatures to cause particularly aggressive fire behaviour, she said.

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

Only one route south

Evacuees have been told to report to the North Peace Arena at 9805 96 Ave. in Fort St. John — about 380 kilometres southeast of Fort Nelson.

Anyone needing with transportation is advised to call 250-775-0933 and evacuees should register on the Evacuee Registration and Assistance website at www.ess.gov.bc.ca, the district said.

The Northern Health Authority closed Fort Nelson General Hospital and had plans to evacuate all patients, including long-term care residents, to alternate locations in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek.

The NRRM has also warned that landlines in the region have been affected by the wildfires, with 10-digit dialling unavailable.

Denise Wortman and Zack Roy both had to leave their homes to come to Fort St. John, and described having hardly slept amid heightened stress and anxiety.

A red sun through wildfire smoke.
Wildfire smoke obscures the sun in Fort Nelson, B.C. (Submitted by Danielle Sassie)

“It’s hard to breathe — worried about our homes and stuff,” Wortman said. “But it is what it is, right?

“Hopefully, we’ll still have a home to go back to.”

Fraser has urged any remaining residents in Fort Nelson to leave immediately, saying there may be no one around to help if the fire gets much closer to the community.

Environment Canada is not forecasting rain in the area until Wednesday evening and is predicting only a 60-per-cent chance of showers for that night and Thursday.

“It doesn’t look like there’s going to be much precipitation through that area for the next couple of days at least, unfortunately,” meteorologist Heather Rombough said. “By early next week there might be a little bit, but really nothing significant.”


Posted in CBC