May 26th, 2024

Forecast turns favourable in fight against wildfire threatening northern B.C. town

By The Canadian Press on May 15, 2024.

A view of the Parker Lake wildfire near Fort Nelson, B.C. is shown on Monday, May 13, 2024 in a BC Wildfire Service handout photo. British Columbia's wildfire service says there's potential for gusty winds to fan aggressive fire behaviour in the north, where out-of-control have forced several thousand people to leave their homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-BC Wildfire Service **MANDATORY CREDIT**

FORT NELSON, B.C. – British Columbia’s wildfire service says a low-pressure system moving into the northern part of the province is expected to dampen activity at a blaze that has forced several thousand people to flee their homes in and around Fort Nelson.

An update from the service says cooler temperatures in the low teens along with higher humidity should reduce the likelihood of intense fire activity.

It says there’s potential for light rain, which would further lower the risk of the fire spreading closer to the town of about 4,700 residents who were put under an evacuation order on Friday.

The BC Wildfire Service had said in a post earlier on Wednesday that there was potential for gusty winds to fan “aggressive” fire behaviour in the area.

But the latest report says overall conditions are favourable for firefighting.

It says 19 helicopters and 88 wildfire service personnel are assigned to the blaze in addition to municipal firefighters from the region, and a fire camp located at the Fort Nelson airport is expected to be operational by Saturday.

The town and the Fort Nelson First Nation have been under threat from the 84-square-kilometre Parker Lake wildfire burning just outside the community. The out-of-control blaze had exploded in size on Friday and Saturday.

A much more massive fire, the Patry Creek blaze, is burning about 25 kilometres north of Fort Nelson.

It has grown to 718 square kilometres in size, up from 464 square kilometres yesterday, but the wildfire service says it does not pose an immediate risk to the town and firefighting conditions are favourable in the short term.

The Doig River First Nation and Peace River Regional District have also issued evacuation orders due to a separate fire north of Fort St. John. That fire is now listed as being held after control lines held overnight.

A public information meeting for evacuees from the Fort Nelson area is set to take place in Fort St. John later on Wednesday.

The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality posted an update saying reduced winds had helped limit the Parker Lake fire’s spread towards Fort Nelson, but the blaze did grow along its southern flank on Tuesday, pushing into the Muskwa River valley.

It adds that a structure defence plan has been finalized for the community, where structure protection personnel are concentrating on the Fort Nelson First Nation, the Antler subdivision south of the nation, and areas along the Old Alaska Highway.

Mayor Rob Fraser said in a video posted online that the thousands of people who escaped to Fort St. John have significantly increased the small town’s population.

Fraser, whose jurisdiction includes Fort Nelson, said volunteers helping evacuees are following the provincial emergency services program as they have been trained.

“I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, when it’s 3,500 people (who) drop into a community of 25,000 it’s a shock, it’s a shock to them. So please be patient,” he said.

While conditions are looking favourable around the blaze threatening Fort Nelson, the BC Wildfire Service also said conditions remain unseasonably warm and dry throughout much of the province.

The service added that most spring wildfires are typically caused by human activity and everyone must do their part to avoid sparking a blaze.

Wildfires this year have already burned through more than 2,600 square kilometres of land in British Columbia, according to the wildfire service.

That’s already enough to place 2024 in the middle of the rankings for the total amounts burned in entire years since 2008, although it’s less than one-tenth of the record 28,000 square kilometres scorched last year.

There are 128 active wildfires listed in the province, including 15 that are burning out of control.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2024.

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