A large forest fire in northern B.C. is growing as firefighters struggle to contain the out-of-control blaze that has forced dozens of people from their homes.
Crews worked through Sunday night to dampen the wildfire, which by Monday afternoon had expanded to consume 27 square kilometres of land near Norman Lake, about 50 kilometres southwest of Prince George.
Jill Kelsh of the B.C. government’s Wildfire Management Branch said the fire is expected to remain active for at least the next couple of days.
“We do expect it to grow just because of the hot weather and dry conditions,” she said in an interview, adding that the team’s primary focus was safety.
The fire was first spotted on Saturday and smoke remains visible from nearby Highway 16 and surrounding communities, including Prince George, Quesnel and Williams Lake.
By Monday afternoon more than 100 staff were en route to lend a hand to the more than 25 firefighters, four helicopters and eight pieces of heavy machinery already battling the blaze.
The reinforcements included sustained-action crews and a specialized incident management team.
About 80 people were ordered to leave their homes while hundreds of other residents near Little Bobtail Lake and Naltesby Lake were put on evacuation alert.
The evacuation order affects 122 properties around Norman Lake, an area that contains a mixture of both permanent and seasonal homes.
The blaze is believed to be caused by humans, said Kelsh.
“When there’s not lightning it has to be human,” she said, adding that an investigation is being conducted.
It is the province’s first major, expanded-attack blaze of the season and arrived earlier than usual, said Navi Saini, also with the wildfire management branch.
“We’ve responded to fewer fires this year to date than last year and the 10-year average,” she said. “But the fires we’ve seen this year have burned a larger area.”
The region’s first expanded-attack fire last season was the Mount McAllister fire, which ultimately covered 160 square kilometres and displaced more than a thousand people from the community of Hudson’s Hope, B.C.
But the Mount McAllister fire did not start until mid-July.
Despite its earliness, Saini said it’s difficult to use this recent blaze as an indicator for the upcoming fire season.
Hot, dry conditions are contributing to the elevated fire risk, and Saini said that trend is expected to continue.
Up-to-date information on evacuations can be found on the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako’s website and website for the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George.
B.C.’s Wildfire Management Branch is currently dealing with two active fires larger than 10 hectares in size. The second blaze is burning 32 km south of Lillooet off the Duffey Lake Road and spans 60 hectares, but it is contained by natural barriers and no structures are at risk.
Firefighters have responded to fewer fires so far this year than in recent years, but officials say they are burning a larger area.