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Winds wreak havoc for B.C. firefighters

A large fire raging in British Columbia's Central Interior has grown dramatically over a 24-hour period, reversing some of the progress achieved by crews struggling to contain the aggressive blaze.


May 21, 2015
By The Canadian Press

The Little Bobtail Lake fire southwest of Prince George has ballooned
more than 40 per cent since Saturday, from 170 square kilometres to 240
square kilometres.

The increase was in large part thanks to unseasonably dry conditions in
the region and heavy winds, with gusts peaking at 50 kilometres per
hour, said Melissa Klassen, a fire information officer with the
province's Wildfire Management Branch.

"We had 20-per-cent containment as of Saturday morning," she said, but by Sunday crews had lost part of that headway.

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"The area that was looking really good, the area that we've made a lot
of progress in over the last couple of days, unfortunately, is one of
the areas where the fire broached the fire line."

More than 300 personnel are on the scene in the Little Bobtail Lake
area, with 270 firefighters, 13 helicopters, 22 pieces of heavy
equipment and eight air tankers brought in to battle the blaze.

The flames have forced the evacuation of about 80 people living around
Norman Lake and Bobtail Lake, while neighbouring residents around
Bednesti Lake and Cluculz Lake have been put on evacuation alert.

So far no buildings have been damaged.

The RCMP said they believe the fire was human caused and have
pinpointed where the blaze began, though investigations are still
underway to determine its exact cause.

Campfires were not banned in the area last Saturday when the fire broke
out, though a prohibition on fireworks, tiki torches and grass burning
had been imposed three days earlier.

The level of fire activity in B.C. this early in the year is "way above
normal" and could herald a busier-than-usual fire season for 2015, said
Klassen.

"We are seeing larger and more intense fires than usual," she said,
adding that the flare-ups are more characteristic of fire activity in
July and August.

"If we're this dry right now we're only going to continue getting drier."

The province's Wildfire Management Branch is on the scene of a half
dozen other fires, most of which were sparked by lightning in the
Cariboo region on Friday.

Many of those fires have been put out, though a small blaze near
Pelican Lake, about 80 kilometres southwest of Quesnel, was 85-per-cent
contained as of Sunday afternoon.

Another fire, about three square kilometres in size near the Chilako River southwest of Prince George, was reported on Sunday.

Cooler temperatures and lighter winds forecast for the coming days should offer some respite to fire crews.

The maximum penalty for starting a forest fire, as laid out in the
province's Wildfire Act, is a $1-million fine and three years
imprisonment.

A B.C. man was convicted of dropping the cigarette butt that caused a
2003 fire near Kamloops, B.C., which destroyed 60 homes and forced the
evacuation of more than 7,000 people. He was eventually fined $3,000 for
negligence.


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