B.C. mayor warns against videos of properties destroyed by fire outside Fort Nelson

FORT NELSON, B.C. — The mayor of a northeast British Columbia community threatened by wildfires is warning people who stayed behind in the evacuation zone to stay on their properties and not share images of fire destruction on social media.

Northern Rockies Regional Municipality Mayor Rob Fraser says it's "insensitive" and "unconscionable" that images of properties destroyed by the Parker Lake wildfire outside Fort Nelson have been shared before owners were told of the damage by authorities.

Fraser's comments come after videos were posted on social media showing what appear to be multiple homes destroyed outside Fort Nelson.

The Facebook videos posted this week show large structures reduced to grey ash and twisted metal, scorched vehicles, and tall trees blackened by the side of the road.

One video posted Wednesday appears to show firefighters working to protect another home, with smoke shrouding the road.

Fraser says people who stayed behind after Fort Nelson was ordered evacuated on May 10 need to register with authorities to make sure they are part of the co-ordinated firefighting effort.

He says the law requires those not registered to stay on their properties to avoid diverting police resources away from other necessary duties.

The person who posted the videos could not immediately be reached for comment.

"The law says those people if they're not part of the effort (to fight fires), they need to be staying on their properties if they didn't evacuate when there's an evacuation order," Fraser said in an interview on Friday.

"The RCMP don't know these people, one from the next, unless it's a fire vehicle, and so they end up stopping somebody in a private vehicle when they should be out there looking for looters and checking properties. It's just distracting from their ability to do what we've asked them to do to secure the community."

Fraser had previously said that fire damaged some structures on rural properties outside the town, and emergency staff were working to contact owners. But he wouldn't say whether they included homes, or describe the extent of the damage.

He said confirmation of structural damage was only released after the social media videos began appearing, and he didn't want people to find out about damage to their property without being properly informed.

Rainy weather in and around Fort Nelson has aided the fight against both the Parker Lake fire burning 2.5 kilometres west of the town and the Patry Creek holdover blaze 25 kilometres to the north of the community of about 4,700 residents.

Evan Peck with the BC Wildfire Service says a low-pressure system brought much-needed rain on Wednesday and Thursday, along with cooler temperatures and lower humidity, making for "excellent" conditions for fire suppression efforts.

In a video posted by the service late Thursday, the fire behaviour specialist said there had been minimal growth of the Parker Lake fire, which forced the entire community to flee as strong winds fanned the advancing flames.

The fire was mapped at 123 square kilometres in size Friday, slightly lower than an earlier estimate of 127 square kilometres on Thursday.

Peck says the weather had also dampened the much larger Patry Creek fire, a holdover blaze from last year.

"Recent weather has reduced the fire behaviour to smouldering ground fire, preventing fire growth," he says of the blaze that spans 718 square kilometres.

Peck warns, however, that while conditions should remain favourable over the next several days, it's not enough to break the long-term drought in northeastern B.C.

The BC Wildfire Service said the Patry Creek fire isn't an immediate threat to the town, but conditions can change rapidly if there are strong northerly winds.

Fraser says having Patry Creek bear down on Fort Nelson has complicated how officials assess when residents can return to the area as the threat from Parker Lake diminishes due to reduced fire activity.

"While we are doing what we can do down here, we always seem to be looking over our right shoulder to see what that fire is doing and whether or not it's blowing up," he says.

Winds were expected to be northerly on Friday with an isolated risk of thunderstorms, the service said in another online update.

"While precipitation was received on portions of the Parker Lake wildfire and the Patry Creek wildfire, fuels are beginning to dry out as we head into the weekend," the update said.

It says more than 100 wildfire service firefighters are responding to the fires, as well as about 60 structure protection firefighters and 19 helicopters.

The wildfire service is in the process of setting up a fire camp at the Fort Nelson airport, as they dig in for the long haul to get the fires under control.

B.C. officials, including Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma, were expected to provide a wildfire update later Friday.

— By Chuck Chiang in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2024.

The Canadian Press