May 17th, 2024

Thousands in Fort Nelson, B.C., ordered to evacuate as wildfire threatens town

By The Canadian Press on May 10, 2024.

A hot spot from the Lower East Adams Lake wildfire burns in Scotch Creek, B.C., on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023. The B.C. Wildfire Service says the tactical evacuation of "multiple neighbourhoods" is underway in Fort Nelson, as an out-of-control wildfire threatens the town in the province's northeast. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

FORT NELSON, B.C. – Thousands of people in northeast British Columbia were ordered to evacuate and flee south late Friday as a fast-growing wildfire neared the town of Fort Nelson.

The evacuation order was issued by the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and Fort Nelson First Nations around 7:15 p.m., with residents being told to flee to Fort St. John, 380 kilometres away.

The communities were being threatened by an out-of-control wildfire that the municipality said was about 12 kilometres west of the Fort Nelson, after it exploded in size late Friday.

Fort Nelson and the Fort Nelson Indian Reserve, in the far northeast corner of B.C. about 1,600 kilometres from Vancouver, have a combined population of about 3,000.

The B.C. Wildfire Service said the blaze measured eight square kilometres in size and was “highly visible” from the town, as groundcrews and nine bucketing helicopters battled to control it.

The service said that in addition to wildfire service firefighters, members of the local fire department and the RCMP were responding, and air tanker support had been assigned.

The municipality said the fire posed an “immediate threat to life, health and property.”

“Residents are advised to evacuate the area immediately and begin driving south towards Fort St. John,” it said.

“If you have a recreational vehicle, or your own vehicle, fuel stations are being planned along the route south.”

The municipality said drivers should bring any additional passengers they could.

The fire grew rapidly late Friday. The wildfire service had said in a social media post at 5:25 p.m. that the suspected human-caused fire was half a square kilometre in size, but by 6:30 p.m. it was listed on the service’s website as measuring four square kilometres, before that doubled again.

Less than two hours before the full evacuation was ordered, the municipality had been ordering residents in neighbourhoods west of the town to muster in the community’s recreation centre.

That plan was swiftly overwhelmed.

The fire was fanned by a dry cold front that the wildfire service said had been expected to cross the Fort Nelson zone mid-afternoon Friday.

“While no lightning is expected during this time, wind gusts may exceed 70 kilometres per hour and shift direction rapidly,” the service had said on Thursday.

It said the conditions were “likely to contribute to continued new growth on holdover fires from the 2023 season,” but the blaze threatening Fort Nelson is a new fire, detected on Friday.

“The top priorities of the BC Wildfire Service are life, health and safety of responders and public. The Prince George Fire Centre is actively working with municipal partners, industry and other government ministries to ensure these priorities are achieved,” it said.

The service said an incident management team would assume command in the fire zone.

DriveBC said the Alaska Highway, also known as Highway 97, had been shut due to the fire.

B.C. Premier David Eby said on social media platform X that he was “thinking of people evacuated from Fort Nelson and Fort Nelson First Nation as wildfire activity grows close to their communities.”

“BC Wildfire Service is responding and we will be working around the clock to support people,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2024.

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