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Evacuation orders lifted in B.C. and Alberta towns as wildfires recede

June 16, 2023  By The Canadian Press

Tumbler Ridge resident Joline Couture feared the worst last week when she prepared to pack up and leave under an evacuation order as wildfires loomed outside the small community in British Columbia’s northeast.

“It was absolutely terrifying,” Couture said.

As a Canadian Ranger, Couture was also waiting on orders to go door to door to tell people to get out as winds whipped up the flames and pushed them toward the town.

“We were told it’s not a matter of if the fire was gonna hit Tumbler Ridge, it was a matter of when it was gonna hit, so that was pretty terrifying, to know that I was going to be knocking at doors and telling people to pack everything that they could because they might not have a place to come home to,” she said.


“And there were some people who said that they didn’t want to leave.”

Now the imminent risk to the town has dissipated.

Thanks to recent rain and favourable winds, Tumbler Ridge’s roughly 2,000 residents were allowed to return home Thursday when the evacuation order was lifted.

There was also good news in Alberta, where an evacuation order was being lifted in the town of Edson, allowing more than 8,000 people to return home.

The ending of the order, effective late Thursday, comes six days after flames jumped fireguards outside the town 200 kilometres west of Edmonton and forced residents to get out.

A statement on Edson’s website says residents should remain ready to leave with four hours notice, and evacuation alert status will remain in place.

Thousands of people remain displaced because of blazes across the country, and conditions remain challenging in many places.

Forrest Tower with the BC wildfire Service said that despite the lifting of the Tumbler Ridge order, the rain hadn’t been enough to extinguish the West Kiskatinaw fire outside the town, and it could be burning for weeks to come.

Still, Couture said she was “ecstatic” the evacuation order had been lifted. She waited out the evacuation in Alberta with family.

“These are my people. These are my neighbours. These are good friends,” she said. “We’re all just so happy to go home and not see any damage.”

The BC Wildfire Service said the West Kiskatinaw fire outside of Tumbler Ridge remains classified as out of control and has grown to 250 square kilometres since it was discovered on June 6.

Tower said crews were aided by favourable weather conditions, allowing them to tackle the blaze enough to make it safe for people to return for the time being.

People in the community should still be prepared if conditions change, Tower said, warning that with “core fire season” approaching, fires that have since been contained can again spin out of control.

“Just given how dry it is, it’s a real possibility that these fires will burn for several weeks for sure, and it could be burning throughout the summer months specifically,” he said.

Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said Thursday that many people in Alberta, B.C. and Quebec have been able to return home, but thousands remain displaced due to fires across the country.

Blair said rain and cooler weather have helped improve the fire situation significantly in the Maritimes and parts of Quebec, but that’s not the case everywhere.

“The hot, dry and windy conditions in parts of Western Canada and in Ontario are exacerbating an already dangerous set of circumstances, and we know the peak of the wildfire season may still be several weeks away,” he said.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre was reporting 446 active fires, of which 217 are out of control. The centre was reporting 127 fires in Quebec, 83 in Alberta, 70 in British Columbia and 56 in Ontario.

Blair says more than 53,000 square kilometres have burned in Canada so far this season, which is almost three times the size of Lake Ontario.

Cooler weather has stalled growth of a huge wildfire in northeastern B.C. burning just a few kilometres from the Alaska Highway.

A statement from the wildfire service says travel on the key route linking Yukon and the northeast corner of B.C. to the rest of the province could be affected within a day or two as the 5,000-square-kilometre Donnie Creek wildfire expands.

Wildfire service information officer Bryan Zandberg said it was now a “very significant fire” in historical terms, with the burn zone measuring 136 kilometres at its widest.

Zandberg said crews are waiting for the right conditions to conduct a controlled burn of a 19-kilometre stretch of woodland along the Alaska Highway, and the area’s black spruce and jack pine trees are dry and potentially very volatile.

An evacuation alert covers both sides of a section of the highway between Fort Nelson and Fort St. John, and Zandberg said people should expect the fire to grow in the next few days, possibly leading to changes in evacuation alerts and orders.

Containment lines are holding around the Vancouver Island wildfire that closed Highway 4 east of Port Alberni on June 6, cutting off paved access to that city and the communities of Tofino and Ucluelet.

Efforts to clear fallen trees and rocks above the highway are underway and the province has said limited travel could resume by next weekend.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2021


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