Growing wildfire near Fort Nelson, B.C., brings heavy smoke, telecom disruptions

Growing wildfire near Fort Nelson, B.C., brings heavy smoke, telecom disruptions
The Parker Lake wildfire, officially designated G90267, is seen through an aircraft window as it burns near Fort Nelson, B.C., in a Friday, May 10, 2024, handout photo.

The wildfire that forced thousands to evacuate from a northeast British Columbia town doubled in size early Saturday and is now burning merely a few kilometres west of the city limits.

The BC Wildfire Service said the Parker Lake fire near Fort Nelson, B.C., reached almost 17 square kilometres in size overnight, up from the eight square kilometres reported late Friday.

It also knocked out 911 service and disrupted telecommunications in Yukon and Northern B.C., with officials in the territory asking Whitehorse residents needing help to go directly to the local RCMP detachment, fire halls or ambulances stationed throughout the city.

An update from the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality says the fire situation “remains volatile and fast-moving.” Officials urged any remaining residents of Fort Nelson to evacuate, noting one remaining 44-seat bus is still receiving passengers who have no other means of leaving.

The Parker Lake wildfire has forced the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and Fort Nelson First Nations to order evacuations in the area, with the region’s roughly 3,000 residents told to flee to Fort St. John some 380 kilometres to the southeast on Friday.

The municipality’s update said those with the means to travel further are urged to go another 440 kilometres south to Prince George, B.C., where a reception centre has been opened for people fleeing Fort Nelson.

READ PREVIOUS: Thousands in Fort Nelson, B.C., ordered to evacuate as wildfire threatens town

Environment Canada said smoke from the blaze has pushed across northeastern B.C. and into parts of Alberta. Edmonton is under an air quality advisory, with hazard levels rated at 10-plus — or “very high risk” — forecast throughout the day.

Meteorologist Heather Rombough said most of the smoke blanketing the city is from the B.C. wildfire, and residents should stay indoors or at least avoid strenuous activity outside until air quality improves.

The Parker Lake blaze was discovered Friday with an initial reported size of half a square kilometre at 5:25 p.m. But the wildfire grew quickly to four square kilometres by 6:30 p.m. and has continued to grow exponentially since.

Fort Nelson is located in the far northeastern corner of B.C. about 1,600 kilometres from Vancouver.

The BC Wildfire Service says the blaze is suspected to be caused by human activity, adding the fire was “highly visible” from Fort Nelson.

The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality originally estimated the fire to be burning about 12 kilometres west of Fort Nelson, but BC Wildfire Service maps show the blaze’s coverage has reached about 6 kilometres west of city limits.

The regional municipality says evacuees travelling south are eligible for free fuel at Buckinghorse River Lodge, 176 kilometres south of the town on the Alaska Highway, with proof of Fort Nelson residency.

Environment Canada is not forecasting rain in the area until Wednesday evening and is predicting only a 60- per-cent chance of showers for that night and Thursday.

“It doesn’t look like there’s going to be much precipitation through that area for the next couple of days at least, unfortunately,” Rombough said. “By early next week there might be a little bit, but really nothing significant.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2024.

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