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Fire officials worry wind could push wildfire into B.C. town today

A raging wildfire, driven by strong winds, could strike Fort Nelson this morning, warns Ben Boghean, a fire behaviour specialist with the B.C. Wildfire Service. The Parker Lake wildfire, already 53 square kilometres in size, is just two kilometres northwest of the town, which has led to the evacuation of about 3,500 residents since Friday.

The situation has been aggravated by years of drought and an unusually low snowpack last winter. The wildfire's intense behaviour is creating severe challenges for the firefighters battling the flames. Mayor Rob Fraser of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, based in Fort Nelson, stated that fire crews and emergency workers are preparing a "last stand" should the fire reach the town.

Fraser has urged anyone who has not yet evacuated to leave immediately. He warned that local resources like water pressure and electricity might be redirected to support firefighting efforts, potentially leaving residents without essential services.

To support evacuees, the province’s minister of emergency management, Bowinn Ma, announced Sunday night that an additional 200 rooms are being set up in Sunset Prairie, located 440 kilometres south of Fort Nelson. This move aims to provide shelter for those displaced by the fire.

The wildfire in Fort Nelson is part of a broader crisis affecting Western Canada, with other significant fires threatening communities in Alberta and Manitoba. In Alberta, fires near Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie are also causing concerns, while in Manitoba, approximately 500 people have been evacuated from Cranberry Portage, about 700 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

Cliff Chapman, director of operations for BC Wildfire, emphasized the gravity of the situation in Fort Nelson. "The wind is going to be sustained and it is going to push the fire towards the community," he said. Chapman also warned that escape routes might be compromised and visibility poor as the fire continues to grow.

Air-quality alerts have been issued across B.C. to Manitoba due to smoke from these wildfires. Despite evacuation alerts, schools in Fort McMurray remain open, though provincial achievement tests scheduled for this week have been postponed. Both public and Catholic school divisions are monitoring the situation closely, understanding that some parents may choose to keep their children at home.

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