VANCOUVER – New evacuation orders have been issued for parts of north-central British Columbia being battered by wildfires, while residents of the region hope for more wind to clear out the smoke.
The Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako issued new or expanded evacuation orders for three remote areas on Saturday, bringing the total number of evacuation orders in the region to nine — the most in B.C.
Wildfires burning near the Nadina, Shovel and Tesla lakes in the Bulkley-Nechako region are the largest in the province, and have grown to more than 1,600 square kilometres combined.
Smoke from wildfires across B.C. has prompted air quality advisories for much of Western Canada, although Environment Canada had dropped Prince George, B.C., from “Very High” to “Moderate Risk” as of Saturday afternoon.
Verne Thom of nearby Fort Saint James, B.C., said he saw blue skies on Saturday morning during his two-hour drive to Prince George — a stark contrast to the blanketing black smoke that filled the air on Friday.
Speaking from the side of the highway, Thom said it looked like twilight early Friday morning.
Meanwhile, thousands of kilometres to the southeast, many residents of Kimberley, B.C., have been on an evacuation alert since Thursday as smoke continues to descend on the East Kootenay region.
Sanford Brown with the Emergency Operations Centre in Cranbrook, about thirty minutes south of Kimberley, said he’s seen the community act quickly to prepare themselves for the worst.
Brown said residents in any area under evacuation alerts or orders need to take it upon themselves to be prepared, making sure they’re getting correct information from trusted sources and are ready to leave immediately.
“Don’t let your guard down, don’t think it couldn’t change, and the more you’re prepared, the less anxious you’ll be,” he said.
“We’ve had 87 people register into the reception centre, and we’ve had a really good response form the community supporting those people with offers of help and resources,” Brown said over the phone from Cranbrook.
Brown said while the wind activity that had fed the fires outside the city had calmed, the smoke was still heavy in that corner of the province.
“It seems like there’s fires all around us, so if it’s not our fires smoking us out, its somebody else’s,” he said.
The BC Wildfire Service’s Carlee Kachman said the agency had just received the results of an aerial reconnaissance of the fire threatening Kimberley, as winds from the north had pushed the fire in on itself.
“We’re very pleased about that report,” said Kachman.
— by Spencer Harwood in Vancouver