Northern B.C. mining town of 4,000 evacuated as forest fire approaches

Northern B.C. mining town of 4,000 evacuated as forest fire approaches

Residents of the northern B.C. mining town of Tumbler Ridge had to flee their homes Monday night because of an approaching forest fire.

All 4,000 people in the area were told to leave under an evacuation order as the Hourglass fire came within 11 kilometres of the town, said Baljinder Jacques of the Provincial Emergency Program. The fire continued to spread early Tuesday. “They are asked to leave the area and proceed to a reception centre to register. One has been set up in Chetwynd and another one has been set up in Dawson Creek,” she said.

Mike Caisley, the mayor of Tumbler Ridge, said evacuees were told to bring enough clothes and toiletries to last about two or three days, although he couldn’t predict exactly how long the evacuation may last.

“I don’t have any doubts that it is inconvenient at best. It’s going to present some hardships for as long as the evacuation order stays in place,” Caisley said.

Buses were provided for the elderly and those with special needs. Evacuees were encouraged to check-in at recreation centres and tune in to local radio station for updates.

Some Tumbler Ridge residents are being put up in hotels in Chetwynd, one hour away and Dawson Creek, two hours away. Others were staying in their own utility or recreational trailers.

“As it stands right now there hasn’t been any problem of finding suitable accommodation in the numbers that are being evacuated,” Caisley said.

It was the second major evacuation in Canada on Monday because of forest fires. About 1,800 people were forced from their homes because of wildfires northeast of Saskatoon.

They’ve fled at least five communities north of La Ronge – Stanley Mission, Grandmother’s Bay, Waddin Bay, Englishman’s Bay and Sucker River – as well as abandoned campgrounds and cottages.

The Hourglass fire near Tumbler Ridge covers about 74 square kilometres and has forced the closure of part of Highway 52, but the road is not needed for the evacuation.

The fire has grown rapidly since it was sparked by lightning last Thursday.

Fire information officer Dean Fenn said the fire is spreading because of dry conditions.

“It’s more the fuel types that are presenting the problem.” he said. “The drying during the day is pre-heating the fuel and that’s creating the difficulty.”

Three other fires are also burning in the region, but they are between 55 and 100 kilometres from Tumbler Ridge, a coal mining town.

About 200 workers and more than a dozen helicopters are fighting the four fires.

Lightning also sparked numerous new fires in central and northern B.C. over the Canada Day long weekend.

One of the newest sprang up Monday 6.5 kilometres northwest of the Lac Le Jeune resort, north of Kamloops in south central B.C.

B.C. Forest Service information officer Jeanne Rucker said air tankers were being used to dampen the flames, which are near some structures, but no evacuations had been ordered as of late Monday.

In Saskatchewan, more evacuations may be necessary, said Duane McKay, director of the province’s Public Safety branch.

“The situation, in our opinion, is extremely volatile and we are on high alert in terms of trying to protect and assist communities with any issues that may result from these fires,” he said.

Shirley Mcleod, one of the evacuees from Stanley Mission, said she could barely spend 30 minutes outside her home on Saturday without coughing.

“I wouldn’t want to be there right now,” Mcleod said Monday. “We’re praying for rain so we can go home.”

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