Fort Nelson Wildfire Evacuees Allowed To Return Home | CBC News

British Columbia

People have started to return to Fort Nelson, B.C., more than two weeks after they were displaced due to a wildfire.

Evacuation alert, requiring people to be ready to leave at short notice, is now in place

Akshay Kulkarni · CBC News

· Posted: May 26, 2024 5:54 PM EDT | Last Updated: May 27

Kate Reid, who returned home to Fort Nelson, B.C., on Monday after fleeing the Parker Lake wildfire, says it feels surreal to be back. (CBC)People have started to return to Fort Nelson, B.C., more than two weeks after they were displaced due to a wildfire.

More than 4,500 residents of Fort Nelson and the nearby Fort Nelson First Nation have been out of their homes since May 10 due to the previously out-of-control Parker Lake wildfire just west of the town.

Kate Reid, who returned to her home with her partner and her baby, described the experience after two weeks away as “surreal.”

“We’ve had people in town working tremendously hard and long, long hours to be able to bring us home,” she said. “So we’re thankful for that.”

The northern lights (aurora borealis) are seen above the raging Parker Lake wildfire near Fort Nelson, B.C., on May 10, 2024. The fire forced residents to flee the nearby town. (Jennifer Johnson/Northern Rockies Regional Municipality)Sarah Michel, one of the earliest evacuees to arrive back in Fort Nelson, told Radio-Canada Monday morning she was eager for her neighbours to come back home.

“We’re very, very close,” she said. “It’s [a] very welcoming community here, so I can’t wait for everyone to come home.”

Emergency services at Fort Nelson General Hospital are resuming with “limited laboratory and medical imaging supports,” according to Northern Health. People requiring in-patient care will continue to be transferred to other facilities in the northeast, said the health authority.

WATCH | Wildfire evacuee came home: 

Home at last: Returning Fort Nelson, B.C., wildfire evacuee expresses gratitude and reliefSarah Michel returned to Fort Nelson, B.C., minutes after a wildfire-related evacuation order ended on Monday morning. Michel tells Radio-Canada’s Benoit Ferradini she’s very happy to return to her “tight-knit” community.

The B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS) has also now classified the Parker Lake wildfire as “being held,” saying that rain on Sunday and the efforts of firefighters mean the fire is not expected to grow.

But the fire hasn’t been extinguished and the service says it expects parts of it to continue burning into the fall.

Evacuation alert in placeOn Sunday afternoon, Northern Rockies Regional Municipality (NRRM) Mayor Rob Fraser told residents that they could return at 8 a.m. MT on Monday.

Before the evacuation order lifted Monday, Fraser told Radio-Canada he was “ecstatic.”

“We were able to find out the imminent threat has been significantly reduced and all of our community infrastructure is in place and critical services are in place, so it’s time to come home,” he said in an interview around 5 a.m. MT.

WATCH | Mayor ‘ecstatic’ Fort Nelson residents can now return home: 

‘It’s time’ for Fort Nelson, B.C., residents to come home, mayor says after fire evacuationRob Fraser, mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, says everybody who had been displaced from their home because of wildfire risk will be allowed to come home on Monday.

Despite the positive update from Fraser on Sunday, the mayor says the community is not yet completely out of danger.

“We will be putting on an evacuation alert because there are still some fires out there,” he said in a video update on Sunday. “The conditions around the region are still extremely dry.”

Rob Fraser, the mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, is pictured on May 27, 2024 in his community. (Benoit Ferradini/Radio-Canada)On Sunday, the BCWS said in a video update that wildfire conditions in general are expected to be volatile over the coming days, as northeast B.C. continues to struggle with significant drought conditions.

“We’re going to have some places that will get rain, others will stay dry,” Eric Kopetski, a fire behaviour analyst, said in the update.

“In the areas that stay dry, we’re expecting to see … some fairly bigger surface fire, showing that the fire still has lots of potential.

“With the rain, we’re going to see many areas and with very subdued fire behaviour …  however, we’re still in very severe drought in this area and it’s causing really significant challenges to our firefighters.”

Fire crews are seen performing planned hand ignitions in forests near Fort Nelson, B.C., to limit the growth of the nearby Parker Lake wildfire on May 20. (B.C. Wildfire Service)In addition to the Parker Lake wildfire, firefighters are also working to tackle the much larger Patry Creek wildfire around 25 kilometres north of the community, a holdover fire which first started in 2023.

“The summer is going to be a long one. I think it’s had an early start again,” said Hugh Murdoch, a BCWS incident commander.

“And there seems to be just so much fire on the landscape so early. It’s not just lightning that’s going to give us our [fire] starts, but these holdover fires from previous year.”

The Parker Lake wildfire is currently burning over an area of 123 square kilometres, while the Patry Creek wildfire occupies an area of around 643 square kilometres, according to the BCWS.

Both fires are burning near Fort Nelson, which is in the province’s far northeast, about 1,000 kilometres north of Vancouver and about 800 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

A view of the Parker Lake wildfire near Fort Nelson, B.C. is shown on Monday, May 13, 2024 in a B.C. Wildfire Service handout photo. (B.C. Wildfire Service/The Canadian Press)Fraser said that anyone who needed help to get back home should call the regional district at 250-775-0933, and urged residents coming back to be patient with business owners as they slowly begin resuming operations.

He also said that there will be a reception centre set up to assist returning residents.

Some homes damagedThe NRRM has previously said that 10 properties in Fort Nelson were damaged by the Parker Lake blaze, and four homes were destroyed, as the fire spread on May 10.

In an update on Sunday, the Fort Nelson First Nation says that while it didn’t lose homes to the fire, some areas that were culturally significant have been damaged.

“To date, there have been no impacts to physical structures in our community of Fort Nelson First Nation,” officials wrote in a letter posted to social media. 

“However, we have experienced some impacts to cultural assets in the Snake River area, and we will work with our community members and stakeholders to rebuild these assets.”


Akshay Kulkarni is a journalist who has worked at CBC British Columbia since 2021. Based in Vancouver, he has covered breaking news, and written features about the pandemic and toxic drug crisis. He is most interested in data-driven stories. You can email him at

Follow Akshay Kulkarni on TwitterWith files from Benoit Ferradini and The Canadian Press

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *