Residents of Hudson's Hope, B.C., flee as flames advance

Ash has been raining down from the sky in northeastern B.C., where communities have rallied to help the people of Hudson's Hope, who were forced to pack up, gather their animals and leave due to the threat of a raging wildfire.

Mount McAllister wildfire west of Chetwynd, B.C., ballooned to 200 square kilometres

1,100 residents in B.C. district ordered from their homes, advised to drive 80 kilometres to Fort St. John 2:28

Ash has been raining down from the sky in northeastern B.C., where communities have rallied to help the people of Hudson's Hope, who were forced to pack up, gather their animals and leave due to the threat of a raging wildfire.

An evacuation order was issued to 1,150 residents Wednesday as the Mount McAllister wildfire, burning 56 kilometres west of Chetwynd, mushroomed to 20,000 hectares, or 200 square kilometres, and continued to grow.

BC Hydro said generating stations near Hudson's Hope are being evacuated, affecting 200 staff and contractors, but said that will not impact its ability to provide power.

Hudson's Hope Mayor Gwen Johansson said 740 people have registered at the emergency reception centre at the North Peace Arena in Fort St. John, approximately 80 kilometres to the northeast.

Now, she's urging anyone who has remained behind to leave. 

Johansson said it appears that most residents have been able to get away safely, and that displays of co-operation and goodwill were everywhere during the evacuation rush yesterday.

"I just have to commend everybody for the way they've gone about this, it's just been very workmanlike," she said.

Social media saviours

Resident Sherry Lafournie was already out of the area, on a job in Calgary, when the evacuation order came. She used social media to reach out and ask for help getting her animals out.

"I said 'we need to get these horses out now! I'm not taking a chance because by the sounds of it, this fire's movin!'"

It didn't take long for help to arrive, and today she's thanking her community — family, friends and even strangers — for rescuing her animals.

"I had six horses to move and my two dogs. My son and his girlfriend went out and grabbed my dogs, but the horses were moved by three helpful ladies, I don't even know them," she told CBC News.

"I've had phone calls left, right, and centre still asking if I still need my horses moved.

"People surprised me. I didn't think there was any of this left, I really didn't. I honestly thought everybody was out for themselves." she said. "I am so amazed with this town."

Megan Babkirk, who lives near the evacuation centre, in Taylor, B.C., said her neighbours stepped up after she set up a Facebook page asking for help providing food and lodging for evacuees of all kinds.

"I thought it would be kind of nice if we reached out and told people, don't worry about your pets, don't worry about your kids. Just bring them over, we have lots of room," she told CBC News. 

"And it just pretty much expanded from there, and everybody just seems to have room or a yard, or somewhere to park a trailer, or supplies, or anything really."

Zero per cent contained

So far, fire crews have been unable to fight the blaze directly. Jillian Kelsh of the Wildfire Management Branch said an incident management team, which is a group of specialized personnel who help co-ordinate the fire fighting, is setting up in the nearby community of Chetwynd.

"We don't actually have firefighters on the ground," she said. "The fire behaviour is actually too extreme to safely put firefighters on the ground and do any sort of direct suppression at this time."

Kelsh said when fires become too dangerous to fight directly, personnel battle the flames indirectly. She said firefighters move ahead of the flames and burn off trees, debris and other foliage to create fuel-free areas. When the advancing fire hits those areas, it loses its momentum, she said.

"It's definitely one of the larger fires that we've got going on," she said. "It's definitely one of the worst fires in B.C. at this time."

The B.C. Wildfire Management Branch hopes a change in the weather will allow fire guards to be set up in coming days.

The Mount McAllister fire is burning out of control, but a change in the weather may allow fire crews to begin to work to contain it. (Wildfire Management Branch)

Johansson said a change in the wind prevented the fire from growing further on Wednesday.

"So that was a very fortunate thing for us, because the growth had been exponential the previous days, and so we were very, very happy to have this happen," the Hudson's Hope mayor said.

Already on Thursday morning, a cooler, possibly wetter weather system seems to be helping, she said.

"It's much better, and it's very pleasant to see sort of the cool morning. We're not expecting the same heat, and Environment Canada is suggesting there might be some moisture [on the way]."

An evacuation alert remains in effect for the community of Moberly Lake and the surrounding area, and for many other places in B.C. where wildfires are burning.

Navi Saini of the Wildfire Management Branch said Wednesday that there were 123 fires burning in the province, most of them in the Coastal, Kamloops and Prince George fire regions.

Also on Wednesday, the B.C. Wildfire Management Branch asked for more personnel from other provinces to help with the elevated fire risk.

Premier Christy Clark says B.C. is experiencing the driest conditions since 1958 and that, right now, the province is spending about $3.5 million every day battling wildfires.

With files from The Canadian Press


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