Fire forces evacuations on Blackcomb Mountain
Hundreds of tourists were evacuated from Whistler and Blackcomb mountains Thursday as a lightning strike sparked a fast-moving forest fire near the famed B.C. resort, a site for next year's Olympics.
The fire, which started around 2:30 p.m. north of Crystal Ridge, grew to 75 hectares by suppertime.
The Coastal Fire Centre says fire fighters are currently attacking the fire from the ground, and water bombers are dumping fire retardant to control the blaze.
In Pictures: Whistler wildfire
The blaze is considered a rank four fire, which indicates a "highly vigorous surface fire" with torching flames.
The B.C. Forest Service has about three dozen fire fighters in place, along with several bucket-operated helicopters and fixed-wing water bombers, while another group of 60 fire fighters is on standby.
Colorado mountain biker Andrew Heine says he was riding on Blackcomb when a thunderstorm hit.
"We could heard the thunder rolling in up top, we saw a few lightning strikes and knew pretty much that they were going to close down."
Heine, a former fire fighter himself, says crews are focusing on keeping the fire away from Whistler Village.
"If it gets over here then you don't have the Olympics," Heine said. "You don't want that to happen for sure."
Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains are the official alpine skiing venue for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Tim Riley was also riding on Blackcomb when it was closed, and says he was shocked at how quickly the fire grew.
"We were here and the lightning came up, we saw a bit of smoke rise up and within about five minutes it all just spread."
None of the homes located lower on the mountain have been evacuated.
The popular resort town, located 115 kilometres north of Vancouver, draws over two million visitors each year. Whistler is home to 10,000 permanent residents.
Hot and dry weather has prompted an extreme fire warning in the area this week.