British Columbia·Video

B.C. wildfires 2018: Crews watch winds closely as biggest blaze burns west of Prince George

More than 150 firefighters and thousands of residents will be watching the weather in northern B.C. on Friday as the largest fire in the province continues to burn, leaving people in nearby cities and communities on edge.

Gusts of up to 40 km/h in the forecast Friday

The sky over Prince George was still dark orange — and outright black in some places — as smoke and ash from the nearby Shovel Lake wildfire floated over the B.C. city. after 9 a.m. on Friday morning. Evacuees from around the region were lined up outside the emergency reception centre. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

More than 150 firefighters and thousands of residents will be closely watching the weather in northern B.C. on Friday as the largest wildfire in the province has people in nearby cities and communities on edge.

The Shovel Lake fire prompted an "extreme fire behaviour warning" from the B.C. Wildfire Service on Thursday afternoon. 

Logger James Stump describes what it's like being near the Shovel Lake wildfire. 0:30

Officials said the 79,000-hectare (790 square-kilometre) fire — nearly seven times the size of Vancouver — was in danger of being whipped up by strong winds.

Fire information officer Claire Allen said the fire held overnight, but gusts of up to 40 km/h are in the forecast for Friday.

"The winds are what we're watching out for today," she said Friday morning. 

"Whenever we have something like that in the forecast, we have to be very, very careful — both in terms of fire behaviour as well as the safety of our firefighters out on the line."

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

Firefighter Christian Garcia, from Mexico, deals with hotspots in an area burned by the Shovel Lake wildfire near Endako, B.C., on Aug. 16. The Shovel Lake wildfire, the biggest blaze in B.C., is more than 680 square kilometres in size. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A crown fire is one that burns through the treetops and along the forest floor.

The smog has made it difficult for crews to fly over the fire and map a plan of attack.

Smoke and ash from the fire has clouded over Prince George, leaving the sky a dark, burnt orange colour well into Friday morning.

Street lights were still on in some parts of the city well after 10 a.m.

Evacuees line up outside an emergency reception centre as smoke from the Shovel Lake wildfire floats over the city. 0:32

Combined smoke from wildfires in western Canada is visible from NASA's DSCOVR satellite — which is about 1.6 million kilometres away.

Historic site threatened

The Shovel Lake fire is burning west of Prince George, between Burns Lake and Vanderhoof.

The Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako urged residents to comply with evacuation orders after the wildfire service's warning on Thursday.

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)

Rob MacDougall, mayor of nearby Fort St. James, said the past few days have been "overwhelming on many fronts."

"We haven't experienced the threat of fire in the past and so close," he said. 

Fort St. James National Historic Site is home to Canada's largest collection of fur trade-era wood buildings. Some are 130 years old.

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

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

"Some of these buildings ... are a critical part of Canadian history," he said. 

Evacuation alert for Kimberley

Late Thursday, the entire city of Kimberley and properties directly south and southwest of the city in the Regional District East Kootenay were placed on evacuation alert due to fires in that area. 

Around 7,400 people live in the southeast B.C. city.

In a statement, Mayor Don McCormick said residents will be given as much advance notice as possible if they need to leave, but he cautioned there may be limited notice due to changing conditions.

An evacuation order was also issued by the district Thursday for residents of 65 properties in the St. Mary Lake area. Members of the RCMP are helping residents leave their homes.

More fire information:

  • B.C. is in its third day of a provincewide state of emergency. There are nearly 600 wildfires burning across the province. 
  • People living in more than 1,500 properties have been forced to leave, while 9,500 more must be prepared to leave at a moment's notice.
  • The Cariboo Regional District issued an evacuation order for 62 properties in the Dean River North area, including Itcha Ilgachuz Provincial Park, late Thursday. The evacuation route was listed as Highway 20 to Williams Lake.
  • A local state of emergency has been declared in Zeballos — northwest of Tahsis — on northern Vancouver Island as several fires burn out of control in the area.   
  • Highway 93 South through Kootenay National Park may be impacted by wildfire smoke this weekend. Traffic has been reduced to 50 km/h through the area of the Wardle wildfire. 
  • Around 100 Canadian Armed Forces personnel were deployed early Thursday to an area west of Kelowna, working on the mop-up of contained fires. The Department of National Defence said it's working with the B.C. Wildfire Service to determine where and when to send other troops.
  • Thirty-six new fires started between Wednesday morning and Thursday afternoon, mostly sparked by lightning.

B.C. wildfire map:

B.C. evacuation map:

With files from Yvette BrendAndrew Kurjata, Michelle Ghoussoub and The Canadian Press

Read more from CBC British Columbia

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story contained an incorrect figure for the population of Kimberley.
    Aug 18, 2018 10:50 AM PT

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