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Even more evacuated as early wildfires ravage Western Canada

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This aerial photo courtesy of the Alberta Wildfire Service, taken May 10, 2024, shows smoke from wildfires burning in the Grande Prairie forest area, 4 kilometers east of the town of Teepee Creek, in Alberta, Canada.

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This aerial photo courtesy of the Alberta Wildfire Service, taken May 10, 2024, shows smoke from wildfires burning in the Grande Prairie forest area, 4 kilometers east of the town of Teepee Creek, in Alberta, Canada.

One of Canada’s first major wildfires of the year ended Monday in the British Columbia city of Fort Nelson, as thousands of people across the country were forced to flee the advancing blazes.

The Pacific coast province’s emergency management minister, Bowinn Ma, said 4,700 people were ordered evacuated from the remote town and a nearby indigenous community as a 5,280-hectare fire spread within 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) from Fort Nelson.

Authorities have been bracing for a potentially devastating wildfire season after the worst in Canada last year, when flames burned from coast to coast and charred more than 15 million hectares of land.

Dozens of zombie fires, caused by layers of dried peat, continued to smolder beneath the surface of the boreal forest all winter. The winter was warmer than normal and left a smaller snowpack, while drought conditions persisted across the region.

“The next 48 hours will be a challenging situation (around Fort Nelson) given the forecast persistent westerly winds and extremely dry and volatile fuels in the area,” Ma told reporters.

“Fleeting wildfires” could start later Monday, she said, noting that it was “extremely unusual to have so many people under evacuation orders so early in the season.”


This outreach photo courtesy of BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), taken on the night of May 10-11, 2024, shows the wildfire threatening Fort Nelson in British Columbia, Canada.

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This outreach photo courtesy of BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), taken on the night of May 10-11, 2024, shows the wildfire threatening Fort Nelson in British Columbia, Canada.

British Columbia has opened several emergency shelters and booked hundreds of hotel rooms for displaced people.

There were 137 active wildfires across the province as of Monday morning, including 14 that were burning out of control.

In neighboring Alberta, authorities said crews and helicopters were battling 45 active fires, including two out-of-control blazes.

A 6,600-hectare fire threatening Fort McMurray in Canada’s oil sands region stopped Monday about 16 kilometers from the city, which was devastated by fires in 2016.

Meanwhile, officials in Manitoba province said a fast-moving, 35,000-hectare fire near Flin Flon in the north forced the evacuation of 550 people over the weekend after the fire grew in size.

Minister of Federal Emergency Preparedness Harjit Sajjan called the fire in Manitoba “very concerning.”

Hazy conditions also blanketed parts of five US states as smoke plumes from the Canadian wildfires triggered air quality warnings in Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.