Mayor says Fort Nelson, B.C., evacuation order 'very close' to being lifted

Evacuations close to lifted

The mayor of the northeast British Columbia municipality where thousands have been evacuated due to wildfires says officials are "very close" to letting residents go home before next Tuesday.

Northern Rockies Regional Municipality mayor Rob Fraser told evacuees that the final major hurdle is restoring emergency-room operations at the hospital in Fort Nelson.

"Are there people out there who can look after themselves, fully self-sufficient, taking the risk with respect to weather? Yes there are," Fraser said. "We have to take into consideration the entire community.

"We have to take into consideration everybody that might not be able to take care of themselves before we can open that highway … but we are close. We are very close."

Fraser told a community update in Taylor, B.C., 400 kilometres south of Fort Nelson, that water, sewer, electricity and police services have all largely been restored.

But he said medical services will be restored in stages, and residents must consider delaying their return if they need specialized health care.

In the meantime, Fraser said he is asking all evacuees to stay put and not rush toward home in Fort Nelson until the evacuation has officially been lifted.

"I want you all to be home," he said to the evacuees. "I want our businesses to be up and running … and I want to see our economy going. And so as soon as I get the word that all the boxes have been ticked with respect to health and safety, with respect to medical care, then we'll lift that order."

The BC Wildfire Service said in its Friday update that the next chance of rain that can help the firefight will arrive Sunday with up to six millimetres possible.

About 4,700 residents have been evacuated from Fort Nelson since May 10, when strong winds pushed the Parker Lake wildfire within a few kilometres of the town.

Wildfire service Fort Nelson incident commander Hugh Murdoch told evacuees Friday that fire behaviour was "dramatically different" in recent days when compared with what forced the evacuations two weeks ago.

Murdoch said while weather was warm and dry at the end of this week, it was accompanied by very little wind, which he described as "helpful" to the wildfire situation surrounding Fort Nelson.

The wind direction is also aiding helicopters having good visibility for conducting air operations, he said.

"There isn't fire all over the landscape by any stretch, but it's showing itself again in a number of places," Murdoch said. "With those winds out of the east-southeast that's pushing fire away from your community, it also ensures the cleanest of air for our air resources."

The province said Friday there are 112 active wildfires in B.C., with only two started in the last 24 hours and 40 declared out in the last week.

Eleven fires in the province remained out of control as of Friday.

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