Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Firefighters stand on a Kamloops Fire Rescue truck at a wildfire near Fort St. John, B.C. on May 14.KAMLOOPS FIRE RESCUE/Reuters

Patrick Patterson quickly packed his suitcase after smoke settled over Fort St. John, a city that was placed under evacuation alert Monday as wildfires burned in northeastern B.C.

He said some residents then spent two hours waiting in line for gas in case the evacuation alert turned into an order. Some had already hit the road, but Mr. Patterson and others held back to make sure their homes were in order.

He said the last time the city of 21,000 experienced a wildfire threat to this magnitude was in 2016, when Fort St. John was on alert around the same time as the Fort McMurray fire that led to the evacuation of more than 90,000 people and destroyed 2,930 buildings.

“It kind of triggered the same memories,” Mr. Patterson said.

He said the initial panic from Monday calmed by Tuesday, as winds died down and skies became clearer. However, the city remains under evacuation alert.

The evacuation alert in Fort St. John was trigged by the Stoddart Creek wildfire, which is an estimated 23,500 hectares as of Tuesday and suspected to be human-caused.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 60 active fires in B.C., of which 15 are out of control. According to the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, there were approximately 5,100 people across B.C. under an evacuation order as of Monday afternoon, and about 33,000 under an alert.

Smoke from wildfires raging in Northern Alberta descend on Calgary

Communities near Fort St. John – Blueberry River First Nation, Doig River First Nation and Peace River Regional District – have issued evacuation orders. The Peace River region has issued multiple alerts and orders because of other fires such as those in Boundry Lake, Cameron River, Donnie Creek and Red Creek.

Cliff Chapman, the director of provincial operations for BC Wildfire Service, said Tuesday that fire and fuel conditions in the northeast are “very challenging” and that the weather is not cooperative for response efforts.

He said that as the heatwave continues through this week, the hazard will increase.

“We’re going to see temperature records being broken likely across the province, in particular in the north,” he said. “The fire hazard is significant and extreme in the northeast.”

Mr. Chapman said BC Wildfire Service is working with local governments on a plan in case Fort St. John’s evacuation alert is upgraded to an order.

Ryan Harvey, communications manager for the City of Fort St. John, said the plan includes where evacuees would go and how they would get there. He said the city hasn’t ever had to complete a full evacuation for all of its residents.

“What we’ve done is set up some controls in place that would allow for an evacuation order if required to come down early, so that so that if anything were to happen, it would give everybody enough time to leave the area,” he said.

Lilia Hansen, the city’s mayor, said her community has a more “positive outlook” now compared with Monday.

“I think that there was a lot more people that, they could feel the stress from the smoke, the strong winds,” she said. “Fortunately, we have really excellent mapping data. We can see that the fires are quite a distance away.”

Mr. Chapman said there have been 206 fires in the province to date this year, compared with the 10-year average 162. The 10-year average of hectares burned is roughly 11,000, but this year, the province has seen upwards of around 50,000 hectares burned and likely more.

He said B.C. sent an incident management team, which is one of the six in the province that runs complex fires, to help with the fires in Alberta. This deployment, composed of about 20 people, will be returning this weekend, he said.

Over the long weekend, Mr. Chapman noted that the province should see cooler, more seasonal temperatures as the high-pressure ridge breaks down.

But he said that weather pattern can also trigger high winds and the potential for thunderstorms, with lightning that could ignite more fires.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the author of this article:

Check Following for new articles