Smoke grounds helicopters as Stoddart Creek wildfire grows in B.C.’s northeast

Click to play video: 'Fort St. John evacuation order lifted as Stoddart Creek wildfire continues'
Fort St. John evacuation order lifted as Stoddart Creek wildfire continues
WATCH: The Stoddart Creek wildfire is still out of control, but the evacuation order for Fort St. John has now been lifted, while the residents of more than 1,300 rural and First Nations properties are still out of their homes – May 17, 2023

The Stoddart Creek wildfire near Fort St. John, B.C., has grown to just over 220 square kilometres in size, with smoke so thick in the region that helicopters couldn’t take off on Thursday.

More than 600 personnel, at least half of whom are firefighters, have been deployed to the Peace Region, to battle four major blazes that have prompted several evacuation orders and alerts.

“The predominant growth that we’re seeing is in the north and to the northwest area,” said BC Wildfire Service information officer Hannah Swift in a Thursday briefing.

“For tomorrow, we’re looking at a bit of a low coming over the Northwest Territories, so that’s going to bring another potential shift in winds … we are bolstering our supports on the south end.”

Click to play video: 'Forecast calls for worsening air quality'
Forecast calls for worsening air quality

Wildfires of note in northeastern B.C. that may threaten human safety include Stoddart Creek, Red Creek, Cameron River and Donnie Creek.

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As it stands, 121 firefighters are dedicated to the Stoddart Creek wildfire during the day and 48 continue the battle overnight. The fire is burning about 25 kilometres from Fort St. John, driven by winds from the southeast and the consumption of rapidly-burning spruce trees, said Swift.

The BC Wildfire Service conducted a controlled burn Wednesday, removing about 3.3 km of “unburned fuels” along Highway 97.

“In the north and in the northwest, those containment lines that are going in are in preparation for a potential larger-scale planned ignition that may take place tomorrow, should our conditions be favourable,” Swift said.

While the smoke grounded helicopters Thursday, it also helped temper the fire’s growth by shielding it from the sun, she added.

Click to play video: 'Several wildfires burning in B.C. put residents on alert'
Several wildfires burning in B.C. put residents on alert

Across the province, 62 wildfires are burning, 10 of which are out of control.

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Drought conditions mean the wildfires are burning deep into the ground, and it’s more difficult to fully extinguish all of the hot spots, Swift said.

The Red Creek and Boundary Lake fires have not grown in the past 72 hours, however, while the Cameron River wildfire remains at 3.8 square kilometres.

The City of Fort St. John rescinded an evacuation alert for more than 20,000 residents Wednesday, while the Peace River Regional District rescinded an evacuation order for Cameron River area residents, and scaled back evacuation orders tied to the Red Creek and Stoddart Creek wildfires.

Residents of Rose Prairie, Montney, Buick, Coffee Creek, Prespatou, Altona, Peejay, Osborn, Nig Creek and Murdale are still under orders to leave, as are citizens of the Blueberry River First Nation.

Those living at 77 km and North on the Tommy Lakes Road, extending east to Wendy Lake, and to the border with the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, also remain under evacuation orders for the Donnie Creek wildfire.

The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, too, has asked residents in the Klua Lakes area, east of Prophet River and south of Fort Nelson, to leave.

Information on how to prepare for an emergency evacuation is available here.

Click to play video: 'Increasing wildfire risk across B.C.’s South Coast'
Increasing wildfire risk across B.C.’s South Coast

The BC Wildfire Service is also battling the Shovelnose Creek wildfire near Squamish, which is still less than half a square kilometre in size. That fire is being held, and is suspected to be human-caused.

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The wildfire service has reported that 42 wildfires so far this year were human-caused, while 15 were started by lightning and three had unknown causes.

Officials have now issued a ban on large open burning across the province in an effort to prevent more human-caused wildfires.

Under B.C.’s fire ban designations, Category 2 and 3 open burnings are prohibited. That includes large open fires, other than a campfire, that burn material in one or more piles not exceeding two metres in height and three metres in width, as well as burning stubble or grass that doesn’t exceed 0.2 hectares.

The forecast suggests possible rain over the weekend, although Swift said there’s also potential for thunderstorms, which could bring lightning and gusty winds.

— with files from The Canadian Press

Click to play video: 'B.C. evening weather forecast: May 17'
B.C. evening weather forecast: May 17

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