THURSDAY UPDATE: Residents of Hudson's Hope flee as flames advance


Sirens sounded in the northeastern British Columbia town of Hudson's Hope, as its 1,150 residents were ordered to flee from what officials called a blaze too extreme for firefighters to battle on the ground.

The Mount McAllister wildfire, which was caused by a lightning strike on Sunday, has mushroomed to 20,000 hectares, or 200 square kilometres, and continues to grow.

Citing a need to "ensure the protection of human life," the District of Hudson's Hope issued an evacuation order Wednesday, telling residents to leave the area immediately and go to an emergency centre in Fort St. John, about 90 kilometres away.

Police and emergency officials went door-to-door to homes and businesses telling people to leave.

Residents are being asked to make the 80 km trip to Fort St. John, where they are being told they will be put up at the North Peace Arena on 96 Avenue.

The district has also declared a local state of emergency.

Hudson's Hope evacuation underway

Hudson's Hope's mayor Gwen Johansson says most residents are complying with the order. The evacuation route is along Highway 29 to Fort St John.

"There’s a stream of traffic headed to Fort St John. People are responding to the order and they are headed that way," she said.

Johansson says the order was issued because there is a chance the wildfire could turn toward Hudson's Hope.

Local resident Scott Linley, the co-owner of Legacy Village Market, said the smell of smoke and quarter-inch chunks of ash have filled the sky for the past two days, and early Wednesday afternoon firefighters told him to close down the store and leave town.

Smoky sunset in Peace River region

A resident submitted this picture of a smoky sunset in the Peace River region. (Submitted by Don Hoffmann)

Linley said he can't see the fire, even at night, because the sun doesn't set until late in the northern community, but the ash and smoke are adding an interesting hue to the sky's colour.

"Right now everything's an amber colour because of the haze in the air," he said. "You know the sunlight? What do they call it, sequoia? When you take a picture with that smoky look? That's what we're looking at for colour."

Linley said he heard the sound of sirens in the town, but he won't leave until he has no other choice.

"I'm reluctant to leave the store for obvious reasons, and so I'm going to be sticking around until I have to go. I appreciate there's an evacuation order but I've got to look after my property."

Meanwhile, the Peace River District has issued an evacuation alert for the community of Moberly Lake. Occupants of the local native reserves, which includes the Moberly Lake Indian Band, are being told to head to Chetwynd.

There are also concerns for industry infrastructure in the area. The Dokie Ridge wind farm is nearby, but so far the fire has not reached any structures.

Fire information officer Jill Kelsh says the Mount McAllister fire is extremely volatile . Crews have been unable to fight it directly and that won't soon change.

“We do expect to see this fire grow," she said. "We don’t expect to be able to get crews on it in the next 24 hours."

B.C. Hydro evacuating staff

B.C. Hydro says it is evacuating about 200 staff and contractors from two of its generating stations at Hudson's Hope. Hydro maintains crews at the WAC Bennett dam and the Peace Canyon dam.

bc-140716-peace-canyon-fire.jpg

The Mount McAllister fire can be seen in the distance behind the Peace Canyon dam. (Submitted by Don Hoffmann)

However, it says the evacuations will not affect its ability to provide power to the province as both generating stations can be operated remotely. It says it could also shift more of the electrical load to generating stations on the Columbia River including the Mica and Revelstoke dams.

Hydro says so far, its transmission structures outside the generating stations are not at risk.

There are 12 significant wildfires currently burning in B.C. and a number of evacuation alerts and orders remain in place across the province.

On mobile? Click here for map of Hudson's Hope, B.C.

On mobile? Click here for a map to the North Peace Arena

BC FIRE EVACUATION

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that a wildfire-related evacuation alert had been issued in Squamish. That was an error.
    Jul 17, 2014 11:26 AM PT
With files from The Canadian Press