Crews make progress tackling fires in B.C.'s northeast
Crews made progress tackling some of B.C.'s most concerning wildfires overnight, but evacuation orders remain in place in the province's northeast near the Alberta border.
As of Sunday afternoon, four "fires of note" — those that are particularly visible or pose a danger to the public — are burning, all of which are in the Prince George Fire Centre in northern B.C.
Two of those — the Boundary Lake fire and Red Creek fire — are burning out of control near Fort St. John, though officials downgraded the evacuation order to an alert in some parts of the Boundary Lake/Goodflow area Sunday evening.
Evacuation orders remain in place for 27 residences between 213 Road to the west and the Alberta border to the east, and for 61 properties closest to the Red Creek blaze. In total, 239 other properties are under evacuation alert.
An evacuation alert was also issued Saturday for the entire Doig River First Nation community in the Peace region.
B.C.'s fires of note as of 3 p.m. on May 6
However, 700 kilometres south, the community of McBride has been taken off evacuation order as the nearby Teare Creek wildfire is now being held.
"The local weather stations [in McBride] reported nearly 20 millimeters of precipitation in the past 24 hours, which has helped suppression efforts significantly," said Sharon Nickel, a fire information officer with the Prince George Fire Centre.
"The fire is not expected to grow beyond the existing containment lines under the current conditions."
Nickel says aviation crews remain on scene in the northeast to tackle the out-of-control fires.
As of 1 p.m. PT Sunday, the Red Creek fire is burning over 15.5 square kilometres and the Boundary Lake fire is burning over an area of 30 square kilometres — nearly eight times the size of Stanley Park.
The Peace River Regional District said in a Sunday afternoon statement strong winds are "expected to contribute to the continued growth" of both wildfires, located about 1,300 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, for the next 24 to 48 hours.
District board chair Leonard Hiebert said in a statement that the wildfires are "aggressive" in their spread since their discoveries on Friday. Local school Clearview School in Flatrock, B.C. will be closed on Monday due to the fires.
In a news conference Sunday afternoon, Hiebert said some residents were venturing into areas under evacuation order, and pleaded for anyone under orders to leave immediately.
"This is impeding the response and putting their lives and the lives of firefighters at risk," he said. "We recognize that the evacuations are stressful and impact the whole community, and we have experienced emergency support services staff in place to provide assistance."
Wildfire crews are keeping an eye on how winds behave over the next few days. Nickel said it's uncertain how rapidly changing weather will affect the fires.
"Sunday moving into Monday, the forecast remains unsettled. We're looking for the western half of the Prince George Fire Centre to continue receiving showers," she said. "For the eastern half, where those fires are located in the Peace region, [it] does run a risk of a few showers and thundershowers."
As of Sunday afternoon, 171 fires have been reported throughout the province this year.
B.C. sending crews to Alberta
Fire conditions in the northeast have been exacerbated by drought in the area, according to the wildfire service.
"Where we are provincially, it's not unusual to see this number of fires. What's a little bit unusual is how many hectares have been burned already this season," Nickel said. "As well as it being really kind of concentrated in the northeast, the relative humidity that we're experiencing and those above average temperatures [are] also a bit unusual."
The dry conditions in the province's northeast have extended to nearby communities in Alberta, where thousands of people have been forced to evacuate.
Nickel says that B.C. has sent a 16-person incident management team to help in the neighbouring province, along with structure protection crews and support staff.