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The latest news on wildfires in Canada as thousands forced from homes in the West

A wildfire burns in northern Manitoba near Flin Flon, as seen from a helicopter surveying the situation, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Lipnowski
Original Publication Date May 15, 2024 - 9:06 AM

Wildfires have forced thousands out of several communities in Western Canada.

In Fort Nelson, B.C., about 4,700 people are out of their homes. Roughly 6,600 residents have been evacuated out of parts of Fort McMurray, Alta., while the rest of the city remains on evacuation alert. And a fire near Cranberry Portage, Man., has forced out about 500 residents.

Here are the latest developments (all times are MT):

4:30 p.m.

A wildfire burning about 25 kilometres north of Fort Nelson has exploded in size, though the BC Wildfire Service says it does not pose an immediate threat to the town that’s already evacuated due to another blaze just outside the community.

The service says the Patry Creek fire has grown to 718 square kilometres, up from yesterday’s estimate of 464 square kilometres.

It says the current forecast suggests cooler temperatures and higher relative humidity will help in the short term, but extreme fire behaviour may flare up again in the region.

The service is planning a prescribed ignition to reduce fuels in an area north of the Fort Nelson River and adjacent to Highway 77 to secure the route and a nearby bridge.

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3:30 p.m.

The BC Wildfire Service says a fire that prompted evacuated orders by the Peace River Regional District and Doig River First Nation is now classified as being held.

It says control lines were firm overnight at the fire that spans an estimated 6.5 square kilometres north of Fort St. John, where many evacuees from Fort Nelson have gathered.

The service says groundcrews are working on direct attack strategies on the south, east and west flanks of the fire while helicopters dump water on priority areas.

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3 p.m.

The BC Wildfire Service says a low-pressure system is expected to move into the northern part of the province, bringing cooler temperatures and higher levels of humidity that should dampen activity at the fire outside the community of Fort Nelson.

An update from the service says there's potential for light rain, which would further lower the risk of the fire spreading closer to the town, where about 4,700 residents were forced out on Friday.

An earlier report said there was potential for gusty winds to fan "aggressive" fire behaviour in the area.

But the latest report says overall, conditions are favourable for firefighting.

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2:23 p.m.

Crews battling a large fire in northwest Manitoba are making progress.

Officials say the line near the community of Cranberry Portage is about 80 per cent contained, and if things go well, the 500 or so residents who had to leave the area could be back in their homes this weekend.

Cellular services and power have been restored, and rain is in the forecast for the coming days.

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2:16 p.m.

In the evacuated Fort McMurray neighbourhood of Beacon Hill, resident David Warwick says the community's emergency preparedness has improved since the massive wildfire in 2016.

Warwick says he was at work when he received the notice to get out of his home.

He says a lot of people left on Tuesday, and while "it was a little bit chaotic," people managed to get out safely.

Warwick says there was a bit of déjà vu for him from the 2016 fire, but he hopes it doesn't get to that point.

2 p.m.

Hotel manager Zeny Patel at the Howard Johnson in Fort St. John says the sudden influx of wildfire evacuees from Fort Nelson has sold out hotels all over town.

Patel says accommodating evacuees who arrive stressed and emotional has been a challenge, but hotel staff are supporting them as much as they can.

She says many evacuees have multiple pets, so they’ve allowed animals in rooms where they usually wouldn’t.

Patel says the hotel team is doing its best to help evacuees, knowing “they all want to go home.”

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1:30 p.m.

Social media giants have reached a deal with the B.C. government to help amplify information on its platforms to keep people informed during emergency situations like wildfires.

Meta cut off news feeds last year after the federal government brought in the Online News Act, forcing the companies to pay news organizations when their stories are relayed online.

However, a joint statement between the province and social media organizations says Meta, Snapchat, TikTok and X have offered to provide B.C. and other emergency organizations with advertising support to relay safety information during the wildfire season.

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1:15 p.m.

Andy Larocque puffs on a cigarette outside the emergency services centre in Fort St. John, B.C., where evacuees from Fort Nelson have been told to gather.

Larocque says he and his family were in Fort St. John for a medical appointment last Friday, and they had started heading home to Fort Nelson when they got word of the evacuation order for the community of about 4,700.

Larocque says he feels lucky to be far from the threat, but he had no chance to secure anything back home at his five-acre property.

He says he's heard from his brother, who stayed behind, that his property is OK for now, and he's trying not to let the stress of the situation get him down because the fire, wind and other elements are out of his control.

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1 p.m.

Eileen McPhee was at a funeral north of Fort Nelson when the town was ordered evacuated last Friday, and she says she felt "helpless" when she heard about the wildfire pushing toward her community.

Now in Fort St. John, McPhee needs supplies for her dog, and she was looking through a plastic bin of dog collars available outside the emergency services centre at the arena where evacuees are set to gather for a public meeting later today.

She says road closures forced her to take a long, circuitous route through Smithers and Prince George to get to Fort St. John, where her daughter was staying.

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12:25 p.m.

The mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality in B.C. says volunteers providing services for evacuees are doing the best they can to help the sudden influx of people.

Rob Fraser says having an estimated 3,500 who are escaping from the fire near Fort Nelson arrive at Fort St. John, population 25,000, is a "shock."

Fraser, whose jurisdiction includes the town of Fort Nelson, says volunteers are executing the provincial emergency services program the way they have been trained, and are asking people to be patient.

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12:15 p.m.

Fire officials in Alberta say a favourable wind today should push the fire near Fort McMurray away from the city.

Alberta Wildfire information officer Josee St-Onge says that while there will still be flame and smoke in the area the wind will be from the northwest at 10 kilometres an hour.

She says weather can change at any point but it is a more favourable wind than Tuesday.

Director of Emergency Management Chief Jody Butz says at this point those evacuated should expect to be away from their homes until at least next Tuesday.

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11:55 a.m.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says fires this year have already burned through more than 2,300 square kilometres.

That's already enough to place 2024 in the middle of rankings for total amounts burned in entire years since 2008.

A record 28,400 square kilometres of land was scorched last year.

The wildfire service says there are 128 active wildfires in the province, including 15 that are burning out of control.

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11:45 a.m.

Diane Ens, a Fort Nelson resident for more than 30 years, was already packed for a planned trip to a hot spring when her street was evacuated.

Ens, along with her dog, three cats, three daughters and mother-in-law, went into the town before it was also was evacuated.

She now she finds herself in Fort St. John in what she calls a state of limbo.

Ens says she has been scrolling her phone constantly looking for updates on the situation back home, and she's trying to stay optimistic.

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11:40 a.m.

Many police officers are in the Fort McMurray neighbourhood of Beacon Hill, one of four areas in the city that are under an evacuation order.

They are keeping a logbook of who is coming and going.

A handful of residents were briefly allowed to return to their homes to get forgotten but critical items, including prescription medicine.

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11:25 a.m.

Jody Butz, the fire chief for the Fort McMurray region, says those who have been told to leave evacuated neighbourhoods may not be able to return until Tuesday.

He says it could even be longer.

He says about 6,600 people have left, and 650 have registered with evacuation centres in other communities.

Butz says crews have installed sprinklers in two neighbourhoods to beef up fire defences.

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11:05 a.m.

The BC Wildfire Service says conditions remain unseasonably warm and dry throughout much of the province, raising the risk of fires sparking and spreading.

It says there's potential for gusty winds to fan aggressive fire behaviour in the north later in the day, including the Fort Nelson area, where an 84 square-kilometre blaze is burning just outside the town.

The service says most spring wildfires are typically caused by human activity.

It says everyone must do their part to avoid sparking a blaze.

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11 a.m.

A public information meeting is set to take place this afternoon for evacuees from the Fort Nelson area in northeastern B.C., as a wildfire burns just outside the town.

The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality says the meeting is to take place at the North Peace Arena in Fort St. John.

Fort Nelson, a community of about 4,700, has been under an evacuation order since Friday.

Mayor Rob Fraser has urged residents not to return to their homes, after the RCMP had to relocate a safety checkpoint outside the community.

Fraser says emergency crews need to focus on their work rather than looking out for residents heading back into harm's way. (edited)

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10:55 a.m.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says her heart goes out to Fort McMurray residents who have had to leave their homes eight years after a blaze known as The Beast devastated parts of the city.

However, Smith says the evacuation order affecting about 6,000 residents is necessary for public safety.

Forestry and Parks Minister Todd Loewen says bans on fires and off-road vehicles are in place for the area.

He says fierce winds are responsible for pushing the fire close to the city.

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10:40 a.m.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says fires this year have already burned through more than 2,300 square kilometres.

That's already enough to place 2024 in the middle of rankings for total amounts burned in entire years since 2008.

A record 28,400 square kilometres of land was scorched last year.

The wildfire service says there are 128 active wildfires in the province, including 15 that are burning out of control.

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10:25 a.m.

Several energy companies say the wildfire threatening Fort McMurray, Alta., is not posing a risk to operations.

Suncor Energy, MEG Energy and Cenovus Energy say they are monitoring their operations.

Suncor spokesman Leithan Slade says some employees and contractors are affected with the partial evacuation of Fort McMurray, and their safety is a top priority.

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10 a.m.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo says crews worked until 3 a.m. dropping water on the fire near Fort McMurray, Alta., which has grown to 210 square kilometres in size.

It says crews are also building a containment line near the city's landfill.

The regional municipality says a small amount of rain last night is expected to have little impact on the fire.

A reception centre for evacuees has opened in Edmonton.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2024.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said more than 23,000 square kilometres of B.C. have burned this year, and 284,000 square kilometres burned last year. In fact, more than 2,300 square kilometres have burned this year, and 28,400 square kilometres burned last year.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2024
The Canadian Press

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