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Shifting winds, cooler temperatures helping firefighters at Tumbler Ridge

‘There’s still real potential for some more aggressive fire behaviour over the next couple of days’
The West Kiskatinaw River wildfire (G70645) burns in the District of Tumbler Ridge, B.C. in this Thursday, June 8, 2023 handout image provided by the BC Wildfire Service. Fire officials are hoping a wind change will help save the community of Tumbler Ridge in northeastern British Columbia, after the wildfire pushed within a few kilometres of the town.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Firefighters took advantage of favourable weather conditions Saturday to make headway on an out-of-control wildfire that forced the evacuation of the northeast British Columbia community of Tumbler Ridge.

Shifting winds, cooling temperatures and intermittent rain showers slowed the wildfire’s advance and changed its direction, giving firefighter crews more time to build guards to protect the community, said BC Wildfire fire information officer Forrest Tower.

“It’s definitely the first day where there’s maybe a sense of calmness, I would say I guess right now,” he said in a phone interview. “But certainly I would not want to say the situation is over right now by any means. We’re using the next 24 to 48 hours to do as much as we can to secure containment on that western flank in the hopes that we can get enough done if we do see some uptick in fire behaviour.”

The estimated 2,400 residents of Tumbler Ridge were ordered to evacuate earlier this week as the intense, out-of-control West Kiskatinaw River wildfire approached within five kilometres of the community.

Tower, who was in Tumbler Ridge, said despite the improved conditions it was still too early to lift the evacuation order.

Most residents are waiting out the wildfire in the nearby cities of Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, but Tumbler Ridge fire chief Dustin Curry said earlier about 150 people remain in the community, of whom some are emergency personnel but others are citizens refusing to leave.

“There’s still real potential for some more aggressive fire behaviour over the next couple of days,” Tower said. “It’s still a large, large wildfire and there’s lots of work that needs to be done.”

The BC Wildfire Service says the fire was at 230 square kilometres Saturday.

“It’s still active and it’s still definitely burning, but just at a much lower intensity than it has been and it isn’t really threatening the containment lines that we have,” Tower said.

Meanwhile, on Vancouver Island, a logging road detour route reopened to connect the communities of Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet, but the main transportation link, Highway 4, remained closed due to a nearby wildfire.

The transportation ministry issued a statement saying the detour reopened after a vehicle involved in an earlier accident was pulled from nearby Francis Lake.

The statement says the detour route will give priority to the movement of essential goods, and starting Sunday morning pilot vehicles will escort convoys of commercial vehicles to and from Port Alberni four times daily until further notice.

Drivers of other vehicles will be placed behind the convoys, but priority will be given to vehicles carrying essential goods, such as fuel and food, the statement read.