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Over 1,100 evacuated

Update July 18

The evacuation order for more than 1,100 residents of Hudson's Hope, BC, has been lifted, allowing residents chased out by a wildfire to return home.

While the threat of the fire overrunning the town has eased, locals have been told that they'll need to remain on evacuation alert and may have to leave with little notice.

Residents were ordered out when the 160-square-kilometre Mount McAllister wildfire was burning so fiercely that BC's Wildfire Management Branch wouldn't put crews on the ground to fight the blaze.

Showers came down overnight for the first time in weeks, but there's a forecast of thunderstorms in the area, and officials say there is still a concern the storms could bring strong winds and dry lightning.

There are about 140 wildfires burning in the province, but only about six of those have forced residents from their homes.

The Hudson's Hope fire was by far the largest evacuation until the Smith Creek fire started up in West Kelowna on Thursday afternoon.


Original Story July 16

Sirens sounded in the northeastern British Columbia town of Hudson's Hope, as its 1,150 residents were ordered to flee from what officials called a blaze too extreme for firefighters to battle on the ground.

The Mount McAllister wildfire was caused by a lightning strike on Sunday, has mushroomed to 20,000 hectares, or 200 square kilometres, and continues to grow.

Citing a need to "ensure the protection of human life," the District of Hudson's Hope issued an evacuation order Wednesday, telling residents to leave the area immediately and go to an emergency centre in Fort St. John, about 90 kilometres away.

Police and emergency officials went door-to-door to homes and businesses telling people to leave.

Local resident Scott Linley, the co-owner of Legacy Village Market, said the smell of smoke and quarter-inch chunks of ash have filled the sky for the past two days, and early Wednesday afternoon firefighters told him to close down the store and leave town.

Linley said he can't see the fire, even at night, because the sun doesn't set until late in the northern community, but the ash and smoke are adding an interesting hue to the sky's colour.

"Right now everything's an amber colour because of the haze in the air," he said. "You know the sunlight? What do they call it, sequoia? When you take a picture with that smoky look? That's what we're looking at for colour."

Linley said he heard the sound of sirens in the town, but he won't leave until he has no other choice.

"I'm reluctant to leave the store for obvious reasons, and so I'm going to be sticking around until I have to go. I appreciate there's an evacuation order but I've got to look after my property."

Jillian Kelsh of the Wildfire Management Branch said an incident management team, which is a group of specialized personnel who help co-ordinate the battle, is setting up in the nearby community of Chetwynd.

"We don't actually have firefighters on the ground," she said. "The fire behaviour is actually too extreme to safely put firefighters on the ground and do any sort of direct suppression at this time."

Kelsh said when fires become too dangerous to fight directly, personnel battle the flames indirectly. She said firefighters move ahead of the flames and burn off trees, debris and other foliage to create fuel-free areas. When the advancing fire hits those areas, it loses its momentum, she said.

"It's definitely one of the larger fires that we've got going on," she said. "And definitely with communities in the vicinity in an evacuation order, and an entire community, that it's definitely one of the worst fires in B.C. at this time."

The Canadian Press

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