Wildfires rage across British Colombia

Nearly 300 hundred forest fires are devouring British Columbia’s tinder-dry wilderness, with the latest major blazes breaking out in the central coast.

An aggressive forest fire has eaten up the only road in and out of the remote, coastal town of Bella Coola, B.C. holding residents hostage.

The Tweedsmuir Park forest fire, now an estimated 18 square kilometres, jumped over Highway 20 on Sunday night, forcing fire officials to close the road at Heckman Pass.

Forestry officials allowed a small fire to burn in the area, but it ballooned on Sunday said Stephen Waugh, Emergency Operations Centre director for the Central Coast Regional District.

“We had a wind shift and that fire absolutely took off and kind of surprised everybody. They weren’t able to stop it before it hit the highway, so it’s crossed the highway and is burning on both sides now,” he said.

The sudden roadblock trapped tourists and residents in Bella Coola–a town which advertises its isolated wilderness location to tourists–and kept many locals from returning home after a weekend at nearby lakefront cabins.

An estimated 50 people are stuck outside the town and are being asked to go to the Cariboo Regional District emergency reception centre in Williams Lake 480 kilometres away. The regional district is dealing with several enormous fires itself.

A freight truck was allowed to traverse Heckman Pass on Monday so grocery stores have been restocked.

“We are hoping the liquor store was restocked too,” Mr. Waugh said.

The first chance for the public to get in and out of the town will be Wednesday morning between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m PT.

“Fire activity is least active first thing in the morning, so the fire service has recommended that time to get people through,” Mr. Waugh said. “All of this is always subject to fire behaviour.”

Forest fires blocked off the same artery in 2009. Unlike last year, the town site is safe, with the fire burning 120 kilometres away, and no evacuation alerts or orders have been issued yet.

“Bella Coola is safe and clear and everybody is happy here,” Mr. Waugh said.

Further out of town, five residents of The Precipice community have been put on evacuation alert.

A separate fire, 50-kilometers north of Bella Coola, has forced outdoor enthusiasts to leave the Upper Dean River. The Cariboo Regional District issued an evacuation order for 250 metres on each side of the river from Kalone Creek to Takla River.

At least two fishing lodges have been evacuated along the river, which is renowned for its steelhead, salmon and rainbow trout fishing.

The fire is currently estimated at 600 hectares and is being attacked by 20 firefighters and four helicopters, said fire information officer, Eric Meagher.

The fire was sparked by lightening on August 2 and smoldered until the heat dried out the area and allowed it to erupt, Mr. Meagher said.

While temperatures are expected to drop, fire crews are expecting a stiff battle for the rest of the week thanks to increasing winds, he said.

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