Thousands evacuate as wildfire grows ‘dramatically’ in western Canada

Authorities say wind will push the Parker Lake Wildfire closer to the small community of Fort Nelson, British Columbia.

The Parker Lake wildfire in northeastern British Columbia, Canada
Thousands of people have been evacuated as the Parker Lake wildfire continues to grow in northeastern British Columbia, Canada [Andrei Axenov/BCEHS/Handout via Reuters]

Thousands of people in Canada’s westernmost province of British Columbia (BC) have been evacuated from their homes as authorities warn that a enormous wildfire continues to grow.

In a video shared online late on Sunday, Cliff Chapman of the BC Wildfire Service said the Parker Lake Wildfire has exhibited “fast growth and high fire behaviour” since it began on Friday, west of the town of Fort Nelson.

A small community of about 3,000 residents, Fort Nelson is located 1,600km (995 miles) north of Vancouver in northeastern BC.

“Over the weekend, wildfire activity in the northeast of the province increased dramatically,” Chapman said in the video.

As of early Monday morning, the blaze had reached 5,280 hectares (13,500 acres) and was just 2.5km (1.5 miles) west of Fort Nelson, according to authorities.

It comes as Canada saw its most intense fire season on record in 2023, as hundreds of wildfires burned in provinces and territories across the country.

The massive blazes forced thousands from their homes, destroyed entire communities, and sent enormous plumes of smoke into the United States as well as Europe.

Experts say the climate crisis was largely responsible for the record wildfires as higher temperatures have extended the Canadian wildfire season and increased lightning, which is generally the cause of about half of all the blazes in the country.

A warmer atmosphere also dries out fire fuels, such as the vegetation on forest floors. These drier fuels then make it easier for fires to start and spread, and they lead to higher intensity fires that are more difficult to put out.

Back in northeastern BC, thousands of residents of Fort Nelson and nearby Fort Nelson First Nation have been ordered to evacuate.

Rob Fraser, mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, said about 3,500 residents had left the area. But some have stayed, local media reported.

“We cannot stress the urgency of this situation enough,” Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Sharleen Gale said in a statement on Sunday, urging anyone remaining in their homes to leave.

“Your lives are of paramount importance, and it is imperative that you leave the community immediately for your own safety. Please take this warning seriously and evacuate without delay.”

That was echoed by Chapman at the BC Wildfire Service, who warned on Monday morning that sustained winds of at least 25km/h (15 miles/hour) were expected later in the day and could make the wildfire worse.

“Those winds are going to be here for the next 48 hours,” Chapman told reporters.

Source: Al Jazeera