British Columbia's first major forest fire of the 2011 season is growing aggressively near Tisigar Lake, just 35 kilometres south of the Yukon border.
The lightning-caused wildfire has grown from nine square kilometres on Thursday to 116 square kilometres in size on Friday afternoon, according to B.C. wildfire officials.
Gusting winds in the area have pushed the blaze to the northeast, moving it at a speed of three kilometres an hour.
The province's Wildfire Management Branch says firefighters spent Friday installing sprinklers and removing fuel sources at all identified structures in the fire's path, including a ranch and several outfitters' cabins.
Crews from B.C. and Yukon are fighting the Tisigar Lake blaze from the air, with airtankers dropping fire retardant near the structures to slow the fire's growth.
The B.C. Forest Service says it is optimistic that cooler weather and calmer winds being forecast for this weekend could help crews gain the upper hand in fighting the wildfire.
'Smoky and snowing'
In the meantime, B.C. Highway 37 — also known as the Stewart Cassiar Highway — remains closed in both directions, about 25 kilometres north of Good Hope Lake, B.C., as of Friday afternoon.
"It's overcast, smoky and snowing," Good Hope Lake resident Wayne Beatty told CBC News.
Beatty said he is worried that some people in his community may need to leave their homes if the forest fire keeps growing.
"We've got quite a few elders in the community and we have to kind of monitor [the fire] to make sure that smoke doesn't get too bad," he said. "And if it does, we'll probably have to evacuate them."
Smoke from the Tisigar Lake wildfire can be seen just north of the border in Watson Lake, Yukon, said Mayor Richard Durocher.
"It looked like a mushroom cloud, almost similar to something you would see from a nuclear blast," he said.
Concerned about evacuations
Like Beatty, Durocher said he is "absolutely concerned" that homes in his town may need to be evacuated.
"We had the experiences in the same area last year with enormous fires," he said.
"In the Yukon and at the Stewart Cassiar turnoff at Highway 37, I mean, they were under evacuation order for a couple of weeks there, and fire crews had sprinklers spread all over the buildings out there. And I'm concerned that that kind of situation will arise again this year."
Yukon wildfire officials have already had to deal with 26 wildfires in the territory so far this season, due in large part to warm and dry conditions.
No new wildfires were reported in Yukon on Thursday but several existing fires have grown significantly, including one blaze burning aggressively 20 kilometres downstream from the confluence of the Teslin and Yukon rivers.
The Yukon Wildland Fire Management Branch is warning river travellers to avoid the area because of the fire, which was 124 square kilometres in size as of Thursday.
Highway traffic could move again soon
B.C. transportation officials are working on getting some traffic moving on Highway 37.
Mike Lorimer, the northern regional director with the B.C. Ministry of Transportation, said crews escorted some stranded motorists through the closed part of the road on Friday.
Lorimer said he is confident that traffic will start moving again on Saturday, as long as firefighters say the area is safe enough.
"We expect to be working with them and dealing with this for … at least the next couple of weeks," he said.
"We're optimistic that we're going to be able to get some openings. In fact, we're planning for pilot car openings starting tomorrow from 9 o'clock in the morning to 6 p.m."
But Lorimer warned that any sudden wind shifts, heavy smoke or burnt trees falling onto the highway could cause further road closures at any time.