Winds in the area of the B.C. community of Tumbler Ridge have done a 180-degree turn and are now blowing east — something that has wildfire officials optimistic in the fight against the nearby West Kiskatinaw wildfire.
“We had a bit of cooler temperatures overnight, and we caught a really big break,” Forrest Tower said, a fire information officer.
“We have (also) had a reduction in fire activity.”
On Friday, there was a forecast of strong winds that were expected to push the fire extremely close or even possibly into the community of Tumbler Ridge, but, thankfully, those winds never materialized.
“We caught a really big break, honestly, with those winds not materializing. Things are looking quite a bit better (Saturday),” Tower said.
“We didn’t actually see a lot of fire growth towards the community on Friday.”
The new winds have also cleared out a lot of the smoke that was hindering fire suppression efforts, making it easier for crews to target areas of most importance.
Tower said they are not “out of the woods, yet,” as winds could shift back. But he also said the shift in winds on Saturday is allowing crews to work on the west front of the fire to create a fire break, which will hopefully hold the fire from growing west if winds do switch again.
The fire is an estimated 19,714 hectares, which was previously recorded at more than 24,000 but wildfire officials say the new estimated size is much more accurate.
Firefighting crews have gathered in Tumbler Ridge from across the province. Firefighters are in the community, dousing homes with water and working on structural protection.
“We are doing the best we can, trying to get as prepared as we can for what might come this way,” said Quesnel firefighter Bart Schneider.
“With the fire so close, we are hoping we can do whatever we can to save this community.”
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 in 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.
“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.
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 done so, so officials can keep track if anyone is missing.
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.
— with files from Simon Little