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Wind could push rapidly growing wildfire into Fort Nelson, B.C.: BCWS

A wildfire burning near Fort Nelson prompted evacuation orders for more than 3,000 residents on May 10, 2024. (Dak Simonton) A wildfire burning near Fort Nelson prompted evacuation orders for more than 3,000 residents on May 10, 2024. (Dak Simonton)

A fast-growing wildfire near Fort Nelson, B.C., that has forced thousands to flee their homes could spread into the town itself, the B.C. Wildfire Service warned.

On Sunday morning, the Parker Lake Wildfire’s estimated size was 2,843 hectares. By Sunday afternoon, it had grown to 4,136 hectares. The fire is burning out of control about 3.5 kilometres from Fort Nelson.

Evacuation orders remain in place for roughly 3,000 residents of Fort Nelson and the surrounding area, and the Fort Nelson First Nation.

Strong forecasted winds and dry fuels have experts predicting Fort Nelson proper “may be impacted” sometime Monday morning, said BCWS fire behaviour specialist Ben Boghean in a video update posted online Sunday afternoon.

The fire was already threatening structures along the Old Alaskan Highway west of the town as of 3 p.m. Sunday, he said.

And the fire is expected to continue spreading west-southwest toward Highway 97 and the Fort Nelson First Nation with a “timed impact” at 6 p.m. Monday.

“The next 48 hours will be challenging for the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality given forecasted westerly winds and extreme dry and volatile fuels in the area,” Boghean said.

“As winds pick up overnight it will create an extreme fire behaviour environment that will challenge current control lines and pose a safety concern to our wildfire personnel and emergency services.”

The BCWS is expecting fire behaviour to decrease on Tuesday when the wind dies down, but it wont relent much until there’s rain.

Northeastern B.C. has experienced years of drought and a below-normal snowpack this winter, which makes forests susceptible to new fire starts and rapid rates of spread, Boghean explained.

The response to the wildfire includes 70 firefighters, 16 helicopters, 17 pieces of heavy equipment and structure protection specialists.

Residents urged to leave

During the update, BCWS director of provincial operations Cliff Chapman urged people to avoid travelling in and around Fort Nelson due to “extreme and aggressive” fire activity, and for anyone who has not yet heeded the evacuation order to leave.

“The fuels are as dry as we’ve ever seen. The wind will be sustained and it’s going to push the fire towards the community,” he said. “Escape routes may be compromised and visibility will be poor as the fire continues to grow.”

On Sunday, Mayor Rob Fraser told The Canadian Press that there were still about 37 households in Fort Nelson and another 28 in the surrounding area that had not yet evacuated.

The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality posted to social media Saturday evening, warning that the risk associated with the fire is ongoing and expected to escalate.

"Know that the decision to evacuate has not been made lightly and is based on careful assessment and expert advice, with the safety of residents being at the forefront," the Facebook post said.

The "last chance" to get evacuation assistance form the Emergency Operations Centre in Fort Nelson before it closes and relocates south of the community will be Sunday at noon, the NRRM warned.

"At this time, all residents who are currently remaining within the community are strongly urged to reconsider and evacuate immediately. You are our friends, family and neighbours. Please stay safe," the post concludes. Top Stories

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