The sun sets over Puntzi Lake as smoke billows into the sky from an aggressive wildfire nearby Wednesday evening.

The sun sets over Puntzi Lake as smoke billows into the sky from an aggressive wildfire nearby Wednesday evening.

Wildfire prompts Puntzi Lake evacuation

Everyone’s worst fears were realized Wednesday afternoon when an aggressive wildfire erupted near the community of Puntzi Lake.

Everyone’s worst fears were realized Wednesday afternoon when an aggressive wildfire erupted near the community of Puntzi Lake, downing power lines and threatening many homes in the area.

Approximately 50 properties have been affected by an evacuation order so far, issued by the Cariboo Regional District Wednesday afternoon.

Many more properties are on evacuation alert as the fire exhibited aggressive behaviour, growing in size to an estimated 1,200 hectares in less than 24 hours.

Four air tankers, two bird dogs and two helicopters were immediately dispatched to the scene to try and knock down the blaze in the early stages, however, heavy smoke overnight made work difficult, said Emily Epp, Cariboo Fire Centre information officer.

Crews and heavy equipment operators worked overnight to establish a control line along the south flank of the fire.

By 9:30 a.m. Thursday, the smoke cleared enough for two amphibious air tankers to resume dropping retardant and water scooped from nearby lakes on the fire.

As of Thursday afternoon, the BC Wildfire Service had 76 firefighters, three helicopters, airtankers and eight pieces of heavy equipment on scene, Epp said.

The wildfire is still exhibiting aggressive fire behaviour and challenging suppression efforts. Increased winds are expected in the area this afternoon.

Cariboo Regional District Chair Al Richmond could not confirm if homes have already been destroyed in the blaze, however, said that has been suggested.

“We are waiting for forestry to do a flyover to confirm any structure loss,” he said Thursday.

Epp said the cause of the Puntzi Lake fire is unknown, although an investigation team was expected to visit the site Thursday weather permitting.

Meanwhile, crews, along with one helicopter and four pieces of equipment, have expanded the attack on the Bald Mountain fire in Farwell Canyon, also discovered Wednesday.

“No structures are threatened and we are working to bring in extra resources,” Epp said.

As a result of the Puntzi Lake fire the CRD activated its Emergency Operations Centre Wednesday at the board office in Williams Lake.

At the centre Wednesday evening, EOC director Rowena Bastien reminded residents of the Cariboo Regional District, including residents of 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, Quesnel and Wells, to  sign up for the Cariboo-Chilcotin Emergency Notification System to receive alerts about emergencies and other important community news.

The system enables the CRD to provide critical information to residents quickly in a variety of situations, such as severe weather, unexpected road closures, missing persons and evacuations of buildings or neighbourhoods.

Those who sign up for the service can specify how they want to receive the alerts, including: home, mobile or business phone; e-mail; and text message. Residents can register by visiting the CRD website at www.cariboord.ca or by calling the office at 250-392-3351.

Depending on the incident, residents could be on their own for several days while first responders manage the situation. People can also learn about how to prepare for emergencies by visiting PreparedBC at: http://www.gov.bc.ca/preparedbc.

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