Extra police, power generators sent to help secure evacuated Fort Nelson, B.C.

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Additional RCMP officers and power generators are being sent to Fort Nelson, B.C., as a community-wide evacuation enters its second week.

More than 4,700 people were ordered to leave the community on May 10 as the fast-growing Parker Lake wildfire, sparked by a downed tree hitting a powerline, moved toward the community.

Rain and cooler temperatures have helped firefighters battle the flames in recent days, but officials say it’s still too soon to guess when residents will be allowed to return.

“There’s not a lot of sense in bringing people back for just a couple of days and then asking them all to leave again,” regional Mayor Rob Fraser said in an interview with CBC News on Thursday, noting that flames are still within 2.5 kilometres of the community.

B.C. officials, including Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma, are expected to provide a wildfire update at 1 p.m. PT Friday. 

In the meantime, extra resources are being sent to help secure Fort Nelson, which is in the province’s far northeast, about 1,000 kilometres north of Vancouver and about 800 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

On Thursday, RCMP confirmed they have sent additional officers to patrol the community and outlying areas, including the Fort Nelson First Nation and Prophet River First Nations, to ensure homes and businesses are secure.

There have been reports of looters taking advantage of the emptied town. RCMP told CBC News on Monday that they have made arrests in connection to property crimes, but have yet to provide more details.

At a community meeting held Wednesday, Fraser, who has remained in Fort Nelson, said he he has seen a strong police presence and not witnessed any damage to businesses, adding he is confident that if there have been crimes, “the usual suspects will be dealt with.”

Plumes of red and grey smoke rise from behind a backyard and a shed.
The smoke from the Parker Lake wildfire is seen from a surveillance camera in Fort Nelson, B.C., on May 10. (Submitted by Claude Normandeau)

In addition to extra police, B.C. Hydro said Thursday it is sending backup generators to Fort Nelson to ensure a steady power supply. 

The utility said it had cut power to roughly 100 customers northwest of the community at the request of the B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS), with plans to restore it as soon as possible.

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It also said that while power remains on for the rest of Fort Nelson, a transmission line has been damaged by wildfires, and the gas processing plant that powers its local generating facility has been shut down as a precaution.

With all that in play, the service said it is sending emergency mobile generating units to Fort Nelson to ensure a lack of power does not become an issue for crews or other essential services still in the region.

The BCWS is also in the process of setting up a fire camp at the Fort Nelson airport, as crews dig in for the long haul to get the fires under control.

‘Excellent’ conditions for fire crews

In a video update posted late Thursday, the BCWS shared a positive message after a day of rain and even some snow in the Fort Nelson region.

BCWS fire behaviour specialist Evan Peck said a low-pressure system had brought much-needed rain over the last two days along with cooler temperatures and lower humidity, making for “excellent” conditions for fire suppression efforts.

In a video released by the service, Peck says there has been minimal growth of the Parker Lake fire, which was mapped at 123 square kilometres in size as of late Thursday.

Peck says the weather has also dampened the much larger Patry Creek fire, a holdover blaze from last year that’s burning as close as 25 kilometres north of Fort Nelson.

Peck says conditions should remain favourable over the next several days.

However, he said it’s not enough to break the long-term drought in northeastern B.C., which has been experiencing low precipitation and parched land since last year.

In an interview with CBC’s Daybreak North Friday morning, Ma said having such a massive evacuation effort so early in the year was “quite concerning.”

She underlined the “prolonged, provincewide, very significant drought” that has officials gearing up for what could be another long, difficult summer and fall.

“We’re on high alert,” she said.

LISTEN | Ma speaks about support for evacuees and the fire season ahead: 

Daybreak North7:25Emergency Management minister on wildfire evacuee situation

Ma says help available, but B.C. drought means a challenging season ahead.


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