Mayor says it’s not safe for Fort Nelson wildfire evacuees to return early

People trying to get back early could create highway lineups that hinder health-care workers: mayor
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The west flank of the Parker Lake wildfire, designated G90267 by the B.C. Wildfire Service, is seen from the air looking east in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-BC Wildfire Service

Residents of the northeast British Columbia municipality where thousands of people have been forced to leave due to wildfires are being warned against trying to return home early.

Rob Fraser, mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, which includes Fort Nelson, said that although officials are working hard to let residents come back before next Tuesday, “it is not currently safe.”

“It doesn’t do us any good for people to come on the highway and come to the roadblock without a permit,” Fraser said in a video update Friday evening.

“As we’re exercising our plan, if people jump the gun and come early and they have no permit, they will not be allowed through the checkpoint.”

People trying to return early could create highway lineups that hinder health-care workers who need to get through, Fraser said.

“All you’re going to do if you come and you get held up at the checkpoint is delay our ability to get people back into the community,” he said.

“It’s just as simple as that.”

Fraser has said the final major hurdle is restoring emergency-room operations at the hospital in Fort Nelson.

Fraser told a community update earlier Friday in Taylor, B.C., 400 kilometres south of Fort Nelson, that water, sewer, electricity and police services have all largely been restored.

But he said medical services will be restored in stages, and residents must consider delaying their return if they need specialized health care.

In the meantime, Fraser said he is asking all evacuees to stay put and not rush toward home in Fort Nelson until the evacuation order has officially been lifted.

“I want you all to be home,” he said to the evacuees. “I want our businesses to be up and running … and I want to see our economy going. And so as soon as I get the word that all the boxes have been ticked with respect to health and safety, with respect to medical care, then we’ll lift that order.”

The BC Wildfire Service said in its Friday update that the next chance of rain that can help the firefight will arrive Sunday with up to six millimetres possible.

About 4,700 residents have been evacuated from Fort Nelson since May 10, when strong winds pushed the Parker Lake wildfire within a few kilometres of the town.

Hugh Murdoch, the wildfire service’s Fort Nelson incident commander, told evacuees Friday that fire behaviour was “dramatically different” in recent days when compared with what forced the evacuations two weeks ago.

Murdoch said while weather was warm and dry at the end of this week, it was accompanied by very little wind, which he described as “helpful” to the wildfire situation surrounding Fort Nelson.

The wind direction is also aiding helicopters having good visibility for conducting air operations, he said.

“There isn’t fire all over the landscape by any stretch, but it’s showing itself again in a number of places,” Murdoch said. “With those winds out of the east-southeast that’s pushing fire away from your community, it also ensures the cleanest of air for our air resources.”

The province said Friday there are 112 active wildfires in B.C., with only two started in the last 24 hours and 39 declared out in the last week.

Ten fires in the province remained out of control as of Friday evening.

READ ALSO: B.C. mayor hopes wildfire evacuees can return to Fort Nelson early next week

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The Canadian Press