Fire officials call for backup as wildfires burn into second day

Provincial wildfire crews back in the field this morning to reassess, prioritize and attack 37 new fires that were whipped up by record-breaking heat and high winds on Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Taylor fire crews are on the South Taylor Hill, where an evacuation order went out at 2:19 a.m. Tuesday morning. 

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Amanda Reynolds, fire information officer for BC Wildfire Service, says local and provincial fire crews are attacking 21 fires in the Fort St. John area and another 16 in Dawson Creek. An estimated 5,000 hectares are burning, the largest at the Beaton Airport Road near Buick north of Fort St. John.

"Additional resource requests have been made," Reynolds said.

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Most fires this time of year are caused by people, Reynolds said, adding that investigators will be in the region today to determine the origin and source of the fires. Some of the fires were caused by downed power lines, Reynolds said.

At least three structures have been destroyed, officials say.

STATE OF EMERGENCY

A state of emergency remains in effect, and the PRRD has issued evacuation orders for Baldonnel, Charlie Lake, the South Taylor Hill and the Blueberry River First Nation.

The community hall in Taylor is being used as a reception centre for evacuees. 

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The night went well, we had a few come in to register, and everyone was able to find the place to spend the night," said one staffer.

Evacuation orders remain in place for:

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• North along 249 Road to 242 Road

• East to 245 Road encompassing residents on both sides of the road

• South to the 238 Road

• 281 Road south of Highway 29N including Joyce Avenue and Jensen Avenue

• 279 Road south of Highway 29N including Koop Road up to the boundary of Tea Creek

• Pingle Creek Road

• 232 Road (Lythall Road)

•Travis Subdivision

• 2477 Highway 97 (Alaska Highway)

People living in these areas are being asked to leave their homes immediately.

The regional district has declared a state of local emergency order in Electoral Area C due to the risk of harm to property and people.The order allows local emergency officials to evacuate residents, block roads and enter private property when an emergency threatens lives, property or the environment.

Other ares of Baldonnel, Charlie Lake and South Taylor Hill are being put on evacuation alert, which asks residents to prepare to evacuate the area if necessary.

SCHOOL CLOSURES

Power outages north of Fort St. John has led to several school closures, according to School District 60.

Schools that are closed today include Wonowon, Prespatou, Buick Creek and Upper Pine.

Classes will resume on Wednesday provided power is restored, the district says.

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WEATHER FORECAST

Environment Canada is calling for a high of 14 C today, with westerly wind gusts up to 50 km/h.

Temperatures in Fort St. John hit a high of 28.5 C Monday, shattering the previous record of 19 C in 2010, and becoming the hottest day on record since records began in 1910.

"That's fairly significant, especially for your neck of the woods," said Environment Canada meteorologist Dave Wray.

Environment Canada issued a wind warning for the Peace Region Monday morning, forecasting wind speeds up to 80 km/h. As of 10:30 p.m., wind speeds were reported at gusts of 72 km/h from a west-southwest direction.

Wray says the strong winds came in behind a strong low pressure system that moved into B.C. from the Yukon. Firefighters are unlikely to get a reprieve on Tuesday, with winds expected to remain gusting up to 60 km/h, though the daytime high will be slightly cooler at 14 C.

"We're not firefighters, but in terms of wind, it doesn't sound like the most ideal situation," Wray said.

The weather is expected to remain dry until the weekend. Wray forecasts a 30 per cent chance of showers on Thursday night, with a stronger chance of rain on Friday, when there is a 60 per cent chance of showers. 

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View of Fort St. John from the top of the hill west of the city. Fire is across the Peace River valley above Taylor. - Darcy Shawchek
 
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A wildfire burns near Taylor Monday night. - Tim Repas
© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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