May 20th, 2024

Wildfire that triggered evacuation of Fort Nelson, B.C. caused by downed tree: mayor

By Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press on May 11, 2024.

The wildfire forcing thousands to evacuate from a northeast British Columbia town has doubled again in size as the blaze grows merely a few kilometres west of city limits. The Parker Lake wildfire, officially designated G90267, is seen through an aircraft window as it burns near Fort Nelson, B.C., in a Friday, Sept. 10, 2024, handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-B.C. Wildfire Service, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

FORT NELSON, B.C. – The mayor of a northeastern British Columbia municipality says a tree blown down by strong winds fell onto a power line and started the fast-growing wildfire that forced the evacuation of thousands of community members.

Northern Rockies Regional Municipality Mayor Rob Fraser says most of the 3,500 residents in and around Fort Nelson, B.C., have been evacuated since the Parker Lake fire broke out on Friday, but police are knocking on doors to ensure everyone got out.

The Parker Lake blaze has reached almost 17 square kilometres in size, more than doubling the eight square kilometres reported late Friday, and BC Wildfire Service maps show the fire burning just a few kilometres west of Fort Nelson’s city limits.

It also knocked out 911 service and disrupted telecommunications in Yukon and Northern B.C., with officials in the territory asking Whitehorse residents needing help to go directly to the local RCMP detachment, fire halls or ambulances stationed throughout the city.

An update from the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality says the fire situation “remains volatile and fast-moving.” Officials urged any remaining residents of Fort Nelson to evacuate, noting one remaining 44-seat bus is still receiving passengers who have no other means of leaving.

Evacuations for the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and Fort Nelson First Nations were issued late Friday after the fire grew from an initial reported size of half a square kilometre at 5:25 p.m. to four square kilometres by 6:30 p.m., then continued to grow exponentially since.

Residents were initially told to flee to Fort St. John some 380 kilometres to the southeast on Friday, and the municipality’s update said those with the means to travel further are urged to go another 440 kilometres south to Prince George, B.C., where a reception centre has been opened.

Fraser says the fire’s pace has since slowed, with winds calming significantly and reducing the blaze’s rate of spread.

Environment Canada says winds around Fort Nelson have dropped to about 5 kilometres an hour after reaching as high as 59 kilometres an hour on Wednesday.

The high winds pushed smoke from the blaze across northeastern B.C. and into parts of Alberta on Saturday. Edmonton is under an air quality advisory, with hazard levels rated at 10-plus – or “very high risk” – forecast throughout the day.

Meteorologist Heather Rombough says most of the smoke blanketing the city is from the B.C. wildfire, and residents should stay indoors or at least avoid strenuous activity outside until air quality improves.

Fort Nelson is located in the far northeastern corner of B.C. about 1,600 kilometres from Vancouver.

The BC Wildfire Service says the Parker Lake fire was “highly visible” from Fort Nelson, with Fraser describing “very dark” smoke emerging from the blaze on Friday.

The regional municipality says evacuees travelling south are eligible for free fuel at Buckinghorse River Lodge, 176 kilometres south of the town on the Alaska Highway, with proof of Fort Nelson residency.

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,” Rombough said. “By early next week there might be a little bit, but really nothing significant.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2024.

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