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Town of Fort Nelson, B.C., ordered to evacuate due to wildfire

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The entire town of Fort Nelson, B.C., as well as the nearby Fort Nelson First Nation, has been ordered to evacuate due to an out-of-control wildfire.

The blaze was discovered Friday afternoon approximately 12 kilometres west of the community in northeastern B.C., and has been growing rapidly ever since.

"Residents are advised to evacuate the area immediately and begin driving south towards Fort St. John," the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality said on a social media shortly after 7 p.m. Friday.

"If you have a recreational vehicle, or your own vehicle, fuel stations are being planned along the route south. If you know of and have the ability to take additional passengers who may need assistance or transportation, please consider doing so."

Earlier in the evening, the BC Wildfire Service said it was conducting "tactical evacuations" of neighbourhoods near the blaze.

In posts on social media, the BCWS said it is responding to the "evolving incident" along with the Fort Nelson Fire Department and RCMP.

The service said the new blaze was estimated at 50 hectares in size in its post shortly before 5:30 p.m. Just an hour later, however, that size had been revised upwards to 400 hectares. By 8 p.m., the fire's reported size had doubled again to 800 hectares.

The fire is "highly visible" from Highway 97 and the Fort Nelson townsite, and is "currently impacting" the highway, with closures expected.

The wildfire is believed to be human caused, BCWS said.

The regional municipality is asking residents to proceed immediately to Highway 97, also known as the Alaska Highway, and head south. Those requiring assistance with transportation out of the area should call 250-774-6122, the municipality said.

Fort Nelson had a population of slightly more than 2,600 as of the 2021 census, according to Statistics Canada. The Fort Nelson First Nation, which is also under an evacuation order, was home to another 419 people as of 2021.

Fort Nelson is the civic and commercial hub of the regional municipality, which had a total population of just under 4,000 in the most recent census.

Evacuees are advised to close and lock all windows and doors, and to shut off gas and electrical appliances, other than refrigerators and freezers.

A reception centre is being set up at North Peace Arena, 9805 96th Ave., in Fort St. John, according to EmergencyInfoBC.

"Updates on Emergency Reception Centre locations in Fort St. John and locations beyond will be provided when available," the regional municipality said.

The wildfire closed Highway 97 north of Fort Nelson, with DriveBC saying no updates were expected before noon on Saturday.  

Two other out-of-control fires in area 

The latest blaze is separate from two other out-of-control fires burning in the region, which prompted evacuation alerts Thursday.

The notices were issued "because of the potential danger to life and health," according to the alert issued by the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality.

One fire is burning in the Patry Creek area, about 40 kilometres away from the Alaska Highway and Highway 77 junction. The fire was discovered about a week ago and is about half a hectare in size. BC Wildfire Service officials think the fire was caused by lightning.

A second fire is burning about 60 kilometres east of Fort Nelson, in the Nogah Creek area. That fire, discovered on Sunday, was measured at 2,000 hectares as of Thursday evening. BC Wildfire Service said it's believed the blaze was caused by dry lightning, which means it struck when there wasn't rain nearby.

Officials shared a map of the evacuation alert area, adding the alert was issued to help residents prepare to leave if necessary.

On Thursday, during a news conference about emergency management plans, wildfire officials expressed concern about the hot and windy conditions forecast over the next two days. 

A wildfire incident management team has been dispatched to the Fort Nelson area to establish a command centre ahead of the weekend heatwave.

"Ground resources, helicopters, air tankers, unit crews and initial attack crews are being brought in early to add to existing regional resources," Forests Minister Bruce Ralston said.

While Fort Nelson's forecast shows a high of 19 C for Friday, other parts of the province could get closer to 30 C.

"With these heightened temperatures, we may see an increase in wildfire activity, particularly in the northeast," Bowinn Ma, minister of emergency management and climate readiness, told reporters in Victoria on Thursday.

"I want to encourage everyone, particularly those living in the northeast, to remain vigilant and to be prepared."

With files from CTV news Vancouver's Todd Coyne 

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