Smoke from the Tsulquate fire turned the skies red above Port Hardy Friday evening.

Hardy state of emergency declared

Port Hardy went into a state of emergency as the Tsulquate River wildfire blazed

Port Hardy declared a state of emergency on July 4 after a wildfire discovered a day earlier burned through the weekend, causing evacuations of about 100 homes and an influx of helicopters, ground crews and other resources into the area.

The fire, believed to be caused by human activity, was discovered early in the evening of July 3 near the Tsulquate River 1.5 km from Port Hardy. Air tankers began to drop retardant on the fire Friday evening, but had to ground when night fell. Heavy winds blew sparks that began a spot fire. Around 8:30 p.m. residents of Upper Carnarvon and Mayors Way began to be evacuated, and an Emergency Operations Centre was set up at the Port Hardy Civic Centre. As the sun went down Friday, smoke filled the town.

On Saturday morning the town declared a state of emergency as the main fire grew to eight hectares overnight in addition to the one-hectare spot fire.

Heavy helicopters applied water to the area while ground crews worked with the challenge of the fire burning in heavy coastal timber. Coastal Fire Centre classified the fire as a high risk ground fire.  By Saturday afternoon the main fire was measured at 16 hectares, and the dry, hot and windy conditions proved challenging for the ground crews and helicopters working throughout the day. Mike McCulley, Fire Information Officer with B.C. Wildfire Service, said Saturday that “this is significant fire with aggressive activity,” and warned residents not to become complacent just because the fire was emitting less smoke than the day before.

Between Saturday evening and Sunday morning the fire did not grow, but the persistently hot weather and strong winds had officials preparing for another challenging day.

Paula Mackay, Fire Information Officer with the Coastal Fire Centre, said that the main fire on Sunday morning was measured at 16 hectares, and was 20 per cent contained, while the 1 hectare spot fire was 80 per cent contained. The fire as of Sunday morning was considered a rank 1 fire, meaning a smouldering ground or creeping surface fire. Four helicopters continued to work on the fire Sunday in addition to ground crews.  Mayor Hank Bood reported Sunday that there were no new evacuations being ordered, but that the situation was being repeatedly assessed.  “The key message today is that it is going to be the hottest, driest day of this week,” said Bood.

By 1:30 p.m. Sunday, the Coastal Fire Centre reported that the main fire had grown to 17 hectares, and said that 46 firefighters, four helicopters and seven pieces of heavy equipment were being used to fight it.

As of Monday morning the spot fire had been contained and the evacuation order the night before was changed to an evacuation alert, allowing residents to return to their homes. The main fire Monday morning continued to be 20 per cent contained, but was considered a low ground fire burning in the old growth and roots. Mayor Bood said that fire crews were still on the scene and working hard, and stressed that even though the evacuation order had been lifted, everyone needed to be vigilant and aware that the order could be put back in place if the situation worsened.

The Tsulquate River fire was just one of 50 new wildfires in B.C. this weekend. Victoria and Vancouver are both experiencing significant smoke and haze from the region’s fires, and Vancouver has issued an air quality advisory. The province is currently under a fire ban that restricts any open fires or campfires.

 

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