Wildfire just 4 or 5km from Tumbler Ridge, B.C. could reach town by end of day

Click to play video: 'Dozens of Tumbler Ridge residents stay back'
Dozens of Tumbler Ridge residents stay back
More than 2400 people from the town of Tumbler Ridge have been evacuated, as the giant West Kiskatinaw River fire has grown and is now within approximately 5 kilometers of the town. Rumina Daya reports from Dawson Creek – Jun 10, 2023

An “incredibly intense” wildfire burning in British Columbia’s northeast is now just four to five kilometres from the community of Tumbler Ridge, and could reach the outskirts of town at some point Friday, according to the BC Wildfire Service.

The fire prompted an evacuation order Thursday afternoon, forcing the community’s 2,400 or so residents to flee.

Despite the dangerous situation, fire information officer Karley Desrosiers said the West Kistkatinaw River fire hadn’t behaved quite as fiercely as expected Friday morning, and crews are hopeful an early wind shift may still stall growth towards the community.

“The ignition point was about 21 kilometres from Tumbler Ridge, so since Tuesday afternoon we’ve seen it move about 15 kilometres,” she said.

“From my understanding about eight or nine of those were yesterday.”

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Click to play video: 'B.C. braces for an unprecedented wildfire season'
B.C. braces for an unprecedented wildfire season

The fire has more than doubled in size from 9,600 hectares on Thursday evening to 23,000 hectares on Friday afternoon. A crew is currently stationed along Bearhole Lake Road at the bottom of a ridge just east of town, hoping to block the fire’s westward spread.

However, Desrosiers said it has been unsafe for crews to attack the fire directly at its head due to its volatility and intensity. The fire has been so hot and conditions so dry that it is growing on all flanks, even grown against the wind, she said.

Click to play video: 'Tumbler Ridge residents ordered to evacuate'
Tumbler Ridge residents ordered to evacuate

“The area of most concern is if that fire crosses the Bearhole Lake (Road) it will likely make its way upslope towards the community of Tumbler Ridge,” she said. “Unfortunately we are still seeing those easterly winds pushing that fire west.”

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Earlier in the day, BC Wildfire Service forecaster Matthew MacDonald warned there was a “pretty good” chance the fire could reach the community at some point Friday.

Desrosiers said there were 60 structure protection personnel stationed in Tumbler Ridge with more on the way, along with more unit crews and aircraft to be deployed as they became available.

Click to play video: 'Bracing for a busy wildfire season'
Bracing for a busy wildfire season

Tumbler Ridge Fire Chief Dustin Curry, who is also leading the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), thanked the bulk of residents heeded the evacuation order issued Thursday.

About 150 people have opted to remain in the community, he added. A few are working at the EOC, he said, but the rest have ignored the order.

“At this point of time, our message to those individuals who have chosen to stay and are not part of the EOC, is that our sense right now is to public safety, and really the best way you can help us and help the public and the responders and everyone in town here is to evacuate yourself,” he said.

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“We understand that that’s not an easy decision for everybody to make, but we really want to stress the importance of having everybody leave so that we can make sure that we’re focusing our efforts in the right places.”

Curry said RCMP had warned people still in the community that there was no BC Ambulance crew in town in the case of an emergency, and that there may be no one to help them if it turns out they need to flee in a hurry.

Click to play video: 'More firefighters on the way to help battle the Cameron Bluffs wildfire'
More firefighters on the way to help battle the Cameron Bluffs wildfire

Desrosiers said wildfires can be so damaging to infrastructure that by the time they reach a community, the option to get out may be gone.

“It can come down to it being too late to be able to escape safely,” she said.

Evacuees have been directed to a reception centre at the Ovintiv Events Centre in Dawson Creek. Anyone evacuating is being asked to register and stay put once they have do so, so officials can keep track if anyone is missing.

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Fire has forced the closure of Highway 52 to the north and east of the community, and all evacuees have been directed to take Highway 29 instead.

Evacuees are also being advised that hotels are fully booked in Dawson Creek and Chetwynd, and that if they need accommodations they can find them in Fort Saint John.

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