An encroaching wild fire has set off an immediate evacuation order for residents of the British Columbia District of Tumbler Ridge, a community of 2,400 people in northeastern B.C.
The district said in a message issued Thursday afternoon by the B.C. Emergency Alert system that residents need to leave the area immediately due to the risk to life.
The wildfire, called the West Kiskatinaw River fire, was only discovered on June 6, but has grown to 96 square kilometres in size.
The alert came just as government and BC Wildfire Service officials were holding a news conference about wildfire activity in the province.
Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma said the area burned this year had already exceeded the total amount burned in 16 out of the last 20 wildfire seasons.
She said 382 wildfires have burned a total of 5,205 square kilometres since April 1.
“We’ve also seen that heat events are becoming more frequent and projected to become more severe due to climate change. Heat is now a part of our reality and it is critical that British Columbians understand what they can do to protect themselves and their loved ones if these events happen,” Ma said.
Neal McLoughlin, superintendent of predictive services for the BC Wildfire Service, said he’s concerned about the start of the fire season.
“It is quite alarming to see this amount of area burning this early in the season and it certainly doesn’t bode well for the remainder of this summer.”
A BC Wildfire Service advisory says the fire near Tumbler Ridge fire was caused by lightning and continues to spread aggressively.
It isn’t responding to suppression efforts, the advisory said.
The statement from the District of Tumbler Ridge said the evacuation order includes the all those in the district and those with properties at Bearhole Lake.
The order says evacuees should leave via Highway 29 or Highway 52 east to Dawson Creek.
McLoughlin said lightning-caused fires are one of the service’s biggest concerns this season.
“We typically see lightning start in the later part of May and really pick up in the month of June and through the rest of the summer,” he said.
“We could get scattered lightning and at a slower pace or we could see a big weather system change that brings widespread lightning all at once, and those are very difficult situations to fire agencies where there’s more fire than we may be able to respond to.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.