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Wildfire in Canada’s British Columbia forces thousands to evacuate. Winds push smoke into Alberta

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Canadian authorities are urging all remaining residents in a town in British Columbia to leave immediately, despite improving weather conditions, after many were already evacuated due to a fast-growing wildfire.

The blaze, which started Friday, almost doubled in size the following day, reaching about 17 square kilometers (4,200 acres). BC Wildfire Service maps showed the fire burning just a few kilometers (miles) west of Fort Nelson’s city limits.

Fort Nelson is located in the far northeastern corner of British Columbia, about 1,600 kilometers (995 miles) from Vancouver. Fort Nelson and the Fort Nelson Indian Reserve have a combined population of about 3,000.

In 2023, Canada witnessed a record number of wildfires that also caused choking smoke in parts of the U.S. and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate across British Columbia.

Authorities in Alberta also issued an alert about a wildfire nearly 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) southwest of the oil sands city of Fort McMurray that could impact visibility on highways in some areas. No evacuation order has been given so far for the major Canadian oil city.

In 2016, more than 80,000 people evacuated from Fort McMurray, in the heart of Canada’s oil sands, as a fire torched 1,600 homes and other buildings.

The high winds pushed smoke across Alberta on Saturday, putting the city of Edmonton under an air quality advisory with hazard levels rated at 10-plus — or “very high risk” — forecast.

Meteorologists are not anticipating rain and have advised people to stay indoors.

Online footage shared by locals from the Fort Nelson wildfire showed thick plumes of smoke rising high into the sky, with houses in the foreground. In some photos, haze seemed to cover wide areas.

The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and Fort Nelson First Nation issued a joint statement warning people choosing to stay that “emergency medical services are not available, nor are groceries or other amenities.”

The municipality mayor, Rob Fraser, said most of the residents in and around Fort Nelson have been evacuated, adding that police were going door to door to ensure everyone got out.

Health authorities said Fort Nelson General Hospital has been safely evacuated and closed until further notice.

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