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16 wildfires burn in South Peace in ominous start to fire season

Additional crews called in to coordinate response to rash of wildfires.

Dozens of volunteers battled a wildfire whipped up by strong winds west of Dawson Creek Monday, one of 48 fires that broke out across the Peace Region April 18 in an ominous start to fire season. 

Blazes near Baldonnel and the Blueberry River First Nation prompted evacuation orders, while fires were reported in the South Peace near East Pine, Kelly Lake and Arras. 

As of Tuesday morning, there were 16 fires burning near Dawson Creek and dozens more near Fort St. John.

Peace River Regional District Chief Administrative Officer Chris Cvik said officials were still waiting to hear which fires had been contained. He was not yet sure whether any buildings in the South Peace were destroyed by fire. 

“In terms of losses, we don’t have anything confirmed at this time,” he said Tuesday morning. “We’re heard some outbuildings, but we don’t have any confirmed numbers in terms of actual buildings being lost.” 

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Fires burning in the Peace Region as of 10 a.m. Tuesday, according to the BC Wildfire Service. - Supplied

He said there were no evacuation alerts or orders in the South Peace as of Tuesday morning. 

He said 49 homes were evacuated in Charlie Lake, 24 in Baldonnel and 17 outside Taylor. Evacuation alerts covered hundreds of additional properties.   

The Arras blaze began Monday afternoon around 30 kilometres west of Dawson Creek. A plume of smoke was visible from town. 

As of 9 p.m., the fire was rated at 50 hectares. The BC Wildfire Service believes it was human-caused. 

Water trucks, the Arras Volunteer Fire department and a small army of nearby landowners turned out to fight the blaze, with Troy Nelson’s property the centre of operations. 

The fires were aided by a combination of extremely dry conditions and gusts of wind up to 80 km/h, which earlier prompted a weather alert from Environment Canada. 

No one on scene was immediately sure what started the fire, though many believed the winds whipped up burn piles from last winter, which were not extinguished due to low snowfall. 

It was not immediately known whether any homes or farm buildings were damaged in the blaze, though several nearby families were ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.

Dave Abel, who lives across the highway from the source of the fire, said his wife told him to gather at the rally point on the Nelson property shortly after work. 

He said the early start to the fire season worried him. 

“It’s just a fact,” he said, while keeping an eye on a fire line. “It’s the wind, an early spring. Brush piles that were maybe burned last winter are still going.”

Crews worked to build fire lines to prevent flames from jumping into fields. Abel said that at times, they had to rely on a bucket brigade from a nearby creek. 

Abel said this year's abnormal winter had something to do with the rash of wildfires. 

“If we had another month or so of regular weather and a lot more snow then everything would have been out.” 

As of late February, the region’s snow pack was around 65 per cent of normal, according to the B.C. River Forecast Centre.