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Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

A wildfire rages near Fort Nelson, BC, as the evacuation order ends

By Vaseline May27,2024

By The Canadian Press on May 27, 2024.

Evacuees from Fort Nelson, BC gather at the North Peace Arena in Fort St. John, BC on Monday, May 13, 2024. Residents of Fort Nelson can go home today after being evacuated for more than two weeks due to bushfires. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jesse Boily

FORT NELSON, BC – The Parker Lake wildfire near Fort Nelson, BC, is now classified as “contained” as residents begin returning home, more than two weeks after the fire forced thousands of people to evacuate the community.

The BC Wildfire Service says rain on Sunday and firefighters’ efforts mean the 123-square-kilometre fire in the northeast corner of the province is not expected to grow.

But the fire has not yet been extinguished and the agency says it expects parts of it to continue burning into the fall.

The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and the Fort Nelson First Nation jointly lifted evacuation orders at 8 a.m., lifting roadblocks and clearing the way for people to get home, 17 days after they were ordered to flee.

According to a statement from the council, the community is safe to re-enter, but there are still fires in the area.

An evacuation alarm is now in effect, where people must be ready to leave at short notice.

About 4,700 residents were forced from their homes in Fort Nelson on May 10, when strong winds pushed the Parker Lake wildfire within a few kilometers of the city.

The fire destroyed four homes and damaged six other properties in the area.

The council said several properties are not safe for the general public. An order has been issued restricting access to these properties to only property owners, their designees or other permitted personnel.

The city said residents returning home will have access to free cleaning kits from the Red Cross.

A statement from Northern Health said emergency services are resuming at Fort Nelson General Hospital.

“The hospital emergency department will reopen Monday morning with limited laboratory and medical imaging support. Other departments will resume services in the coming weeks,” the statement said.

The health authority said people requiring inpatient care will be transferred to other facilities in the Northeast.

Wildfire crews are also battling the Patry Creek fire, about 16 miles north of the city, a remnant fire initially ignited by lightning in July 2023.

The regional municipality’s mayor, Rob Fraser, has asked residents to be patient as they navigate what is expected to be heavy traffic on the highway between Fort Nelson and Fort St. John, 380 kilometers to the south, where many of the evacuees have been staying .

The latest data from BC Wildfire Service lists 113 active wildfires in the province, with 102 in the Northeast.

In a video update posted online Sunday, Hugh Murdoch, an incident commander based out of Fort Nelson, said there is a “tremendous amount of fire” in the region, with about 2,500 square kilometers burning in the Northern Peace complex.

Murdoch said 130 firefighters are working on the Parker Lake and Patry Creek fires, along with 11 pieces of heavy equipment and 19 helicopters.

“Summer is going to be long, I think. It has started early again and it seems like there is a lot of fire in the landscape so early,” he said.

“And it’s not just lightning that will give us our starts, but these remnant fires from the previous year (are) another source that gives us a lot of challenges.”

– By Ashley Joannou in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2024.

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