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B.C. mayor prepares for ‘last stand’ as wind threatens to push fire into town

Click to play video: 'Fort Nelson residents stay behind to help'
Fort Nelson residents stay behind to help
Rena Moore is one of many to stay behind to help fire crews with essential supplies. She talks to Jennifer Palma about how the conditions are there today and how important it was for her to come back and contribute in any way she could – May 12, 2024

A fire behaviour specialist with the B.C. Wildfire Service says an intense wildfire could hit Fort Nelson on Monday morning, based on forecasts that have been calling for strong winds.

Ben Boghean said in a video posted to social media Sunday night that the extreme fire behaviour, made worse by years of drought and a below-normal snowpack this past winter, could end up threatening the crews that have been fighting the Parker Lake wildfire.

Rob Fraser, mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality based in Fort Nelson, said Sunday that fire crews and emergency workers are preparing for a “last stand” if the fire advances into the town itself.

Click to play video: 'Parker Lake wildfire causes evacuation of nearby Fort Nelson'
Parker Lake wildfire causes evacuation of nearby Fort Nelson

The wildfire threatening Fort Nelson continues to grow, with the most recent update Sunday night indicating it had swelled to nearly 53 square kilometres.

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The B.C. Wildfire Service says the blaze is currently burning just two kilometres northwest of Fort Nelson, which has already seen about 3,500 people evacuate after an order to leave was issued Friday.

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Fraser urged anyone who defied the order to leave immediately, warning local resources like water pressure and electricity may diminish or stop outright for public use since much of the supply will be directed to support firefighters trying to suppress the wildfire.

The province’s minister of emergency management, Bowinn Ma, said Sunday night to supplement limited accommodations for evacuees, the province is setting up an additional space with 200 rooms in Sunset Prairie, a community 440 kilometres south of Fort Nelson.

Click to play video: 'Fort Nelson mayor provides wildfire update'
Fort Nelson mayor provides wildfire update

The blaze is one of several out-of-control wildfires in Western Canada that are threatening nearby communities in provinces such as Alberta and Manitoba.

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“The wind is going to be sustained and it is going to push the fire towards the community,” BC Wildfire’s director of operations, Cliff Chapman, warned in Sunday night’s update video about the fire threatening Fort Nelson.

“Escape routes may be compromised and visibility will be poor as the fire continues to grow.”

Fires are also burning near Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie in Alberta, while officials in Manitoba have evacuated about 500 people from the community of Cranberry Portage, some 700 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in northeastern Alberta has maintained an alert for Fort McMurray residents to be ready to evacuate on short notice, as the fire 16 kilometres to the southwest has reached 55 square kilometres in size.

Smoke from the fires has prompted air-quality alerts spanning from B.C. to Manitoba.

Despite the warnings for people in Fort McMurray to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice, schools there were still open Monday.

Both the public and Catholic school divisions in Fort McMurray say they continue to monitor the situation, and that they understand some parents may not want to send their kids to school right now.

Both school divisions say that provincial achievement tests that were scheduled for this week are being postponed.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2024.

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