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4 homes lost to wildfire near Fort Nelson, mayor says

Evacuation orders remain in place around northern community, despite recent rain aiding efforts
A view of the Parker Lake wildfire near Fort Nelson, B.C. is shown on Monday, May 13, 2024 in a BC Wildfire Service handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-BC Wildfire Service

The Mayor of British Columbia’s Northern Rockies Regional Municipality says four homes have been lost and six other properties have been damaged by a wildfire that forced the evacuation of Fort Nelson more than a week ago.

Rob Fraser says three of the four homes were occupied and one was vacant, but he’s been able to speak with most of the owners whose properties have been damaged.

Fraser says the affected properties were on the outskirts of Fort Nelson, and the six others saw damage to sheds, shops and vehicles.

The mayor says there’s been no official word on when it will be safe for residents to return as the BC Wildfire Service waits until it’s certain that the Parker Lake wildfire is “burning away from the community.”

Fraser says returning “essential services” will be the first step in allowing residents to return home, including medical staff, grocery stores, gas stations and school board officials.

He says any potential return is still completely weather dependent, and despite recent rain, firefighters have told him the fireline is dry enough to compare to “walking on potato chips.”

“I’m very anxious. I mean, this is the start of a potentially really long season,” Fraser said Sunday. “We’re surrounded by fire, we’re surrounded by heat in this community and we’re in a stage five drought.”

In an update posted late Saturday, the municipality said forecasted rain has provided “a window for progress,” but problematic drought conditions remain.

Fire crews have also placed “structural protection measures” on 200 homes in Fort Nelson, and crews are being aided by both helicopters and heavy equipment, the update said.

The Patry Creek wildfire to the north of the town doesn’t pose an immediate threat, but the municipality warned the situation could change rapidly in the event of strong northerly winds.

Both Highway 97 and Highway 77 remain closed due to wildfires, but residents are now allowed to apply for permits allowing them to re-enter the town if they need to feed livestock or maintain critical infrastructure.

Fraser said Sunday that fire experts have indicated a re-entry plan would likely be on a 14-day timetable, but there are “too many variables” to give people a solid answer on when it will be safe to return.

“Two weeks can be a long time. Look what happened in a few hours,” Fraser said. “We ask every single day. We’re asking ourselves, ‘when can we get people back into the community?’”

READ ALSO: B.C. mayor warns against videos of properties destroyed by fire near Fort Nelson

The Canadian Press