B.C. Wildfire Service warns of potential for 'extreme fire behaviour' from Shovel Lake blaze

The B.C. Wildfire Service has issued an "extreme fire behaviour" warning for the Shovel Lake fire burning west of Prince George.

Residents are being urged to obey evacuation orders

Firefighter Christian Garcia, of Mexico, moves a burnt tree to get at hot spots in an area burned by the Shovel Lake wildfire near Endako, B.C., on Thursday. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The B.C. Wildfire Service has issued an "extreme fire behaviour" warning for the Shovel Lake fire burning west of Prince George.

The service says it has notified the regional District of Bulkley-Nechako of that possibility late Thursday afternoon due to high winds expected over the next 24 hours.

According to Natural Resources Canada, extreme fire behaviour is characterized by a "fast-spreading, high-intensity crown fire" that can be very difficult to control. 

The Wildfire Service says a crown fire is one that advances through the treetops, as well as along the forest floor.

'Evacuate immediately'

"Some residents have chosen not to comply with evacuation orders. Due to the Extreme Fire Behaviour Warning, the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako urges all residents in areas under evacuation orders to evacuate immediately," the release reads in part.

At more than 68,000 hectares (680 square kilometres) in size, the Shovel Lake fire is the largest wildfire burning in B.C.

The Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako has been warned of the risk of extreme fire behaviour from the Shovel Lake wildfire burning west of Prince George. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Fort St. James Mayor Rob MacDougall said the past few days have been "overwhelming on many fronts."

"I think because it is so new. We haven't experienced the threat of fire in the past and so close, and so I think there's a bit of angst in the community," he said. 

Fort St. James National Historic Site is home to Canada's largest collection of fur-trade-era wood buildings. 

Maintenance teams from Parks Canada have set up a sprinkler system on the roofs of the buildings, and are wetting the grounds to prevent any sparks from flaming up in the park.

Lyle Penner, with the park's maintenance team, has been going building to building, ensuring every structure has been sufficiently protected.

"Some of these buildings are about 130 years of age and are a critical part of Canadian history," he said. 

Evacuation alert for city of Kimberley

A new evacuation alert was issued late Thursday for the entire city of Kimberley and other properties directly south and southwest of the city in the Regional District East Kootenay. The southeast B.C. city has about 4,500 residents.

Mayor Don McCormick said in a statement that if an evacuation is needed, residents will be given as much advance notice as possible, but cautioned there may be limited notice due to changing conditions.

An evacuation order issued late Thursday by the Cariboo Regional District covered 62 properties in the Dean River North area, including Itcha Ilgachuz Provincial Park, southwest of Prince George.

Due to the immediate danger, members of the RCMP or other groups were going door to door. The evacuation route is Highway 20 to Williams Lake.

An evacuation order was also issued by the Regional District of East Kootenay on Thursday night. Residents of 65 properties in the St. Mary Lake area have been told to leave their homes immediately, and members of the RCMP are helping.

B.C. is in its second day of a province-wide state of emergency.

There are nearly 600 wildfires burning across the province. 

The residents of about 1,500 properties have been forced to evacuate, while 9,500 more must be prepared to leave at a moment's notice.

The federal government has promised to send 200 Canadian Armed Forces members to B.C. to help. A first team of 100 was deployed early Thursday to an area west of Kelowna to start the mop-up of contained fires.

The Department of National Defence said it's still working with the B.C. Wildfire Service to determine where and when the other troops will be needed.

Thirty-six new fires started between Wednesday morning and Thursday afternoon, mostly sparked by lightning.

With files from Andrew Kurjata and The Canadian Press

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