Cooler weather brings an end to some B.C. wildfire evacuation orders, but Ladysmith fire worries residents

·3 min read
Members of North Oyster Volunteer Fire Department block Takala Road in Ladysmith, B.C., to non-local residents due to the nearby Mt. Hayes wildfire, which started Aug. 19 nearly five kilometres northwest of the town. ( Adam van der Zwan/CBC - image credit)
Members of North Oyster Volunteer Fire Department block Takala Road in Ladysmith, B.C., to non-local residents due to the nearby Mt. Hayes wildfire, which started Aug. 19 nearly five kilometres northwest of the town. ( Adam van der Zwan/CBC - image credit)

While B.C. wildfire crews try to make gains with cooler temperatures settling in, residents are being told to remain vigilant, as new fires continue to start across the province.

Improved conditions led authorities to lift a number of evacuation orders on Friday. But many still remain under alert in case the situation worsens again.

According to the B.C. Wildfire Service, 249 wildfires are currently burning in B.C. And with at least 8,582 square kilometres burned, 2021's wildfire season is now the third most destructive on record in terms of area burned.

One of the most concerning fires that has started over the last few days is the Mt. Hayes fire about five kilometres northwest of Ladysmith on Vancouver Island, which has grown 250 per cent over the last day to 0.7 square kilometres, and has been declared "out of control."

The blaze is clearly visible from downtown Ladysmith, and threatens a nearby FortisBC natural gas site which had an evacuation order issued on Thursday. Authorities blocked some local roads to all but local residents on Friday.

"Today, the fire behaviour is less this morning than it was yesterday," said Donna MacPherson, a fire information officer with the B.C. Wildfire Service, on Friday morning.

"It's moving away from structures in the area and it's also moving southwest, which is away from Ladysmith."

 Adam van der Zwan/CBC
Adam van der Zwan/CBC

MacPherson says the evacuation order for the worksite was issued by the regional district to ensure fewer people were working at the natural gas site.

The cause of the Mt. Hayes fire is yet to be determined, with MacPherson saying an "inversion" has caused the air to be more stable and hold the fire closer to the ground, aiding firefighters.

She is asking residents to be vigilant and report any new fire starts at 1-800-663-5555 or at *5555.

B.C. Wildfire Service/Twitter
B.C. Wildfire Service/Twitter

Rain in forecast

The Mt. Hayes fire is one of the first prominent fires to burn near B.C.'s coast, with most of the province's biggest fires still burning in the Interior.

Taylor Coleman, another information officer with the wildfire service, says rain expected to hit the eastern, southern, and northern parts of the province will free up firefighters to help out with the situation in the Interior.

"We're hoping the conditions this weekend will bring a bit of reprieve and we'll be able to directly attack those wildfires and make some good gains," she said.

Coleman says the improving wildfire situation in eastern Canada will allow firefighters there to eventually move to B.C. and help with the situation here.

This is going to help alleviate expected strain over the next few weeks as some firefighters return to university, she said.

The stabilizing situation has allowed more than 1,000 properties to be taken off evacuation order throughout the province on Friday, with evacuation alerts rescinded for nearly 200 people.

Friday afternoon's downgraded orders included large parts of the village of Lytton, B.C., which was mostly destroyed by fire on June 30. Orders were downgraded as well for some residents impacted by the Tremont Creek Wildfire near Logan Lake, areas of the Lower Nicola northwest of Merritt, and Pete Martin Bay and Queest Village areas.

But near the Mt. Hayes fire near Ladysmith, new evacuation alerts were issued by regional authorities on Friday afternoon for several local roads.

Evacuation alerts mean residents must be ready to leave their homes at a moment's notice. An evacuation order means a resident should leave immediately.

Anyone placed under an evacuation order should leave the area immediately.

Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire. To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

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