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Evacuation order lifted

Rainfall helps calm Mount McAllister fire

When the first drops of rain began to fall in Hudson's Hope Thursday afternoon, staff at the town office were cautiously optimistic.

"With the rain came a lot of lightning and wind. We thought it could go either way," said Laurel Grimm, the town's deputy clerk, who had stayed behind after a wildfire near town triggered an evacuation order. "We thought [the rain] could tame the beast."

By 3p.m. the beast was on its heels. The evacuation alert was rescinded, and residents were told it was safe to return to their homes.

Heavy rains in the Peace Region put the Mount McAllister fire on the ropes Thursday afternoon, but officials are far from saying the blaze is down for the count.

According to fire information officer Jill Kelsh, the fire and Hudson's Hope proper got significant rainfall Thursday. Hudson's Hope, which was evacuated Wednesday as the fire grew out of control, had recorded around 20 millimeters of rainfall by 1:30 Thursday. Kelsh confirmed the fire itself got some precipitation, but crews were unable to gauge the full impact by the Alaska Highway News press deadline.

"We're hearing the fire is quite calm now. The fire activity is a lot lower right now," she said.

Grimm confirmed that there was no imminent risk to the district. However, an evacuation alert was still in place, so residents were advised to stay packed and ready should the wildfire make a comeback.

As Hudson's Hope residents waited for word that it was safe to return home, the Energetic City put on events and tried to occupy them as best they could. They put on Disney films and organized children's games in the North Peace Arena, and the Lido Theatre played other family-friendly movies throughout the day..

"We got kind of a short-notice request from the city," said Brian Kirschner, the owner of the Lido Theatre. He said there were about twenty evacuees who showed up for the noon showing of The Croods.

"This community and the people who live here understand that you either work together or you die together, the choice is yours," said Mayor Ackerman in a press conference on Thursday morning. "If you need a helping hand here all you have to do is look, there will be a hand there."

She said that helping hand has come in the form of an outpouring of support from the community, though there was no need for any personal items at the time.

Although provincial media outlets had reported that many people spent the night in the North Peace Arena, Ackerman clarified that all of the 829 Hudson's Hope residents who registered were put up either in a nearby campgrounds, were staying with family and friends, placed in hotels, or made their own arrangements.

The only residents from Hudson's Hope who did stay at the arena were about fifteen or animals including cats, dogs, and a guinea pig.

Although the evacuation order was officially rescinded, Dave and Chantelle Clark said they were going to be waiting a couple of hours to make sure it didn't come back in.

They were nevertheless relieved that the situation seemed to be getting better. "[The fire] is still across the river a ways, I think we're quite safe," said Dave.

"We're just happy, we've got a bunch of little kids that will be happy to go home to all their toys," he added. They were traveling with four children, ranging in age from a baby to an 18-year-old.

They were able to stay with family in Fort St. John, but said that they were happy with how well Fort St. John handled the situation.

For the first time since the evacuation, there was optimism on the firefighting front.

Firefighters made their first attack on the Mount McAllister fire outside Hudson's Hope Thursday, as weather conditions made it possible to put boots on the ground for the first time.

The fire was under observation for its first few days, as high winds made the prospect of putting crews on the ground too dangerous.

The Wildfire Management Branch was also able to more accurately gauge the size of the fire, revising it's original estimate of 20,000 hectares down to 16,000.

The crews assigned to the fire were staging in Chetwynd Thursday. A structural protection unit was assigned to Hudson's Hope to install a sprinkler system.

The fire, which officials believe was caused by lightning, was first discovered on July 13.

However, Kelsh said it would be some time before they could declare the fire officially "out."

"Normally, when we have a fire of this size, we wouldn't actually call it 'out' until snowfall. If it's been burning for a few days, it can burn down into the roots of the trees. When you get a hot, drying trend, it can come back to life."

Meanwhile, the Alberta officials now in charge of the Red Deer Creek southeast of Tumbler Ridge had not received any reports of rain on that fire. At 1:39, the fire was listed at 34,827 hectares.

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