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Rocky Mountain Town Prepares for 'Last Stand' Against Intense Wildfire

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An intense wildfire could reach a town in western Canada on Monday, fire experts and officials warned, based on forecasts of strong winds that have fueled the out-of-control blaze, which has forced the evacuation of thousands of people.

The British Columbia Wildfire Service said the blaze was burning 1.2 miles northwest of Fort Nelson. More than 3,000 people have evacuated after an order was issued on Friday.

Fire crews and emergency workers were preparing for a “last stand” if the fire advances into the town, said Rob Fraser, mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality based in Fort Nelson. Fraser said less than 100 people remained in town. The wildfire service encouraged those left to leave.

“Escape routes may be compromised and visibility will be poor as the fire continues to grow,” Cliff Chapman, the service’s director of operations, warned in Sunday night’s update. The wildfire had swelled to nearly 20 square miles.

In a video posted on social media late Sunday, the service’s fire behavior specialist Ben Boghean said the extreme fire behavior — made worse by years of drought and a below-normal snowpack this past winter — could threaten the crews that have been fighting the nearby Parker Lake wildfire.

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Fraser warned that resources like water and electricity may diminish or stop for public use since much of the supply will be directed to support firefighters.

In 2023, Canada witnessed a record number of wildfires that caused choking smoke in parts of the U.S. and forced more than 250,000 Canadians to evacuate their communities. There were no civilian casualties, but at least four firefighters died.

Fort Nelson is in the far northeastern corner of British Columbia, about 995 miles from Vancouver. Fort Nelson and the Fort Nelson Indian Reserve have a combined population of around 3,400 people.

The province’s minister of emergency management, Bowinn Ma, said Sunday night that to supplement limited accommodations for evacuees, the province is setting up an additional space with 200 rooms in Sunset Prairie, a community 273 miles to the south.

The blaze is one of several out-of-control wildfires in western Canada threatening communities in provinces such as Alberta and Manitoba.

Fires burned near Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie in Alberta, while officials in Manitoba have evacuated about 500 people from Cranberry Portage, some 434 miles northwest of Winnipeg.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in northeastern Alberta has told Fort McMurray residents to be ready to evacuate on short notice, as the fire about 10 miles to the southwest has reached 22 square miles in size. Schools there were still open Monday.

Smoke from the fires have prompted air quality alerts spanning from British Columbia to Manitoba. Minnesota’s Pollution Control agency also issued a air quality alert.

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

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