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The Battleship Mountain wildfire burns in the Prince George Fire Centre on Sept. 15.HO/The Canadian Press

Husdon’s Hope resident Diana Jewan has had toiletries, first aid supplies and all her pictures packed in a Rubbermaid bin since last summer. When she received an evacuation order because of a wildfire burning close to her home in the northeast of British Columbia, she quickly grabbed several other essentials and was able to flee within an hour.

Ms. Jewan, who has mobility issues, said she started to prepare her bin after another fierce wildfire in 2014 triggered an evacuation order in her community, population about 1,000.

“It’s been getting dry and drier and drier. And I know how long it takes me to get anything done because of my disability … So I just packed up,” Ms. Jewan said.

She said she panicked when the order was issued in the evening of Sept. 10, even though she saw it coming because of the dirty orange sky and falling ashes. But having her essentials packed meant she had one less thing to worry about.

Similar to the earthquake preparedness advice urged upon residents of the Lower Mainland, B.C. residents living in heavily forested zones prone to dryness are being encouraged to keep a bag and their valuables at the ready should they have to flee with little notice.

Fire Information Officer Aydan Coray said preparing in advance for a potential wildfire in areas that may result in an evacuation alert or order can make the experience less stressful.

“So every year, it’s good to take the time to develop a household evacuation plan, assemble an emergency kit, talk to your neighbours,” she said.

In 2019, the B.C. government released a Wildfire Preparedness Guide after two of the worst wildfire seasons in the province’s history. The guide focuses on what residents can do to prepare themselves before, during and after a wildfire, including: assembling a grab-and-go bag for all family members and pets; learning about the local government’s emergency response plan; and tips on how to handle wildfire smoke and wildfire-related stress.

While this year’s fire season has not been as severe, the Battleship Mountain wildfire has resulted this month in approximately 1,030 people under evacuation orders from the District of Hudson’s Hope and the Peace River Regional District, and 310 receiving emergency support services, according to Emergency Management BC.

The orders were lifted on Saturday.

The lightning-caused Battleship Mountain blaze, discovered on Aug. 30, covers more than 30,000 hectares. As of Monday, the east flank of the fire is about eight kilometres from Hudson’s Hope and about four kilometres from the W.A.C. Bennett Dam – a key power generator for BC Hydro.

Although the precipitation, cooler temperatures and increased humidity over the past few days has reduced wildfire behaviour, the blaze is still classified as out of control, according to the BC Wildfire Service.

The agency said the imminent threat of the wildfire is gone, but other hazards may be present. For instance, trees that may be burnt through on their interior can fall over without warning, and sustained drought conditions in the region can cause organic materials to be easily consumed by fire.

Dave Heiberg, mayor of Hudson’s Hope, said people in his community don’t have a suitcase packed all the time. This year, the residents had lots of time to prepare after the blaze was discovered. But the frequency of the fires is a concern, he noted.

Because of climate change, Mr. Heiberg said his community should look seriously at how to manage future wildfires.

Audra Kirkeeng chose to stay in Hudson’s Hope last week because she’s working at the only gas station in town, which was selling fuel and food to the emergency crews and the other locals who had stayed home. She said she has her camper on her truck with the bare necessities in it, but has not packed up photographs or other personal mementos. “I’ve packed my truck twice before. I’d rather not have to do it again,” she said.

Ms. Coray said the public should not let its guard down even in a less intensive fire season.

“If the last five years have taught us anything, it’s that conditions can change quite quickly,” she said.

Ms. Jewan stayed in a hotel for several days after she fled to Fort St. John. During that period, she was constantly wondering how close the flames were to her house.

“I don’t have much, all I have is my home,” she said.

But she noted that people, not only from her hometown, but the surrounding areas such as Fort St. John, Taylor and Dawson Creek, have been very giving to the evacuees.

People have posted on social media, offering their empty rooms, or their outdoor spaces for RV parking and livestock.

“Everyone is kind to us, generous and supportive … It’s definitely reducing stress.”

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