Wildfire near Fort Nelson, B.C., is being held, as evacuation order ends

Evacuees heading home

The Parker Lake wildfire near Fort Nelson, B.C., is now classified as "being held" as residents start returning home, more than two weeks after the fire forced thousands to evacuate the community.

The BC Wildfire Service says rain on Sunday and the efforts of firefighters mean the 123-square-kilometre fire in the northeast corner of the province is not expected to grow.

But the blaze hasn't been extinguished and the service says it expects parts of it to continue burning into the fall.

The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and the Fort Nelson First Nation jointly rescinded evacuation orders at 8 a.m., lifting roadblocks and clearing the way for people to go home, 17 days after they were ordered to flee.

A statement from the municipality says the community has been deemed safe to re-enter but there are still active fires in the area.

An evacuation alert, requiring people to be ready to leave at short notice, is now in place.

About 4,700 residents were forced to leave their homes in Fort Nelson on May 10, when strong winds pushed the Parker Lake wildfire within a few kilometres of the town.

The fire destroyed four homes and damaged six other properties in the area.

The municipality said several properties are not safe for the general public. An order is in place limiting access to those properties to only property owners, their designates or other permitted personnel.

The municipality said residents arriving home would have access to free cleaning kits provided by the Red Cross.

A statement from Northern Health said emergency services at Fort Nelson General Hospital are resuming.

"The hospital’s emergency department is reopening Monday morning with limited laboratory and medical imaging supports. Other departments will resume services in the weeks ahead," the statement said.

The health authority said people requiring in-patient care will continue to be transferred to other facilities in the northeast.

Wildfire crews are also fighting the Patry Creek fire about 25 kilometres north of town, which is a holdover fire that was initially ignited by lightning in July 2023.

The regional municipality's mayor, Rob Fraser, has asked residents to be patient as they navigate what's expected to be heavy traffic on the highway between Fort Nelson and Fort St. John, 380 kilometres to the south, where many of the evacuees have been staying.

The latest data provided by BC Wildfire Service lists 113 active wildfires in the province, 102 of which are in the northeast.

In a video update posted online Sunday, Hugh Murdoch, an incident commander working out of Fort Nelson, said there is a "tremendous amount of fire" in the region, with about 2,500 square kilometres burning in the Northern Peace complex.

Murdoch said 130 firefighters are working on the Parker Lake and Patry Creek fires, along with 11 pieces of heavy equipment and 19 helicopters.

"The summer is going to be a long one, I think. It's had an early start again and there seems to be just so much fire on the landscape so early," he said.

"And it's not just lightning that's going to give us our starts, but these holdover fires from the previous year (are) another source that's giving us a lot of challenges."

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