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Wildfire forces thousands to evacuate homes in British Columbia

The blaze began on Friday and had almost doubled in size by the following day.

Smoke from nearby wildfires blankets the city of Edmonton, Alberta (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press/AP)
Smoke from nearby wildfires blankets the city of Edmonton, Alberta (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press/AP) (Jason Franson/AP)

Canadian authorities are urging all remaining residents in the north-eastern part of British Columbia to leave immediately, despite improving weather conditions, due to a fast-growing wildfire.

The blaze began on Friday and almost doubled in size the following day, reaching more than six square miles, and it is now burning just a few miles from Fort Nelson’s city limits.

Online footage shared by locals shows thick plumes of smoke rising high into the sky with houses in the foreground. In some photos, haze seems to cover wide areas.

The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and Fort Nelson First Nation issued a joint statement warning people who do not evacuate that “emergency medical services are not available, nor are groceries or other amenities”.

The municipality mayor, Rob Fraser, said most of the 3,500 residents in and around Fort Nelson have evacuated, and police are going door-to-door to ensure everyone gets out.

He said the Parker Lake fire is one of three major wildfires near Fort Nelson, located in the far north-eastern corner of British Columbia.

Health authorities said Fort Nelson General Hospital has been safely evacuated and closed until further notice.

Resident Bud Streeper posted a video from the area on Saturday, saying the winds that had whipped the Parker Lake wildfire into exponential growth on Friday night diminished overnight, reducing fire activity around the town.

The high winds pushed smoke from the blaze into parts of neighbouring Alberta on Saturday, putting the city of Edmonton under an air quality advisory with hazard levels rated at 10-plus – or “very high risk”.

Meteorologists are not anticipating rain and have advised people to stay indoors.

Authorities in Alberta also issued an alert about a wildfire nearly 15.5 miles south-west of the oil sands city of Fort McMurray that can impact visibility on roads in some areas. No evacuation order has been given so far.

In 2023, Canada witnessed a record number of wildfires that also caused choking smoke in parts of the US and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate across British Columbia.