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Wildfire near Sayward, B.C., continues to burn out of control with 60 firefighters, 4 helicopters on scene

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The northern Vancouver Island village of Sayward remains on edge Wednesday as a wildfire continues to burn out of control just five kilometres west of the community.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says it is still not recommending evacuation orders for the village of approximately 300 people as the Newcastle Creek fire burns for a third day.

Three helicopters and multiple firetrucks were dispatched to the Newcastle Creek fire on Tuesday morning, with the possibility of a fourth helicopter joining suppression efforts by the afternoon. (Rachel Boult)

"The fire is continuing to burn in a direction that is parallel to the community," Nick Donnelly, a fire information officer with the B.C. Wildfire Service's Coastal Fire Centre, told CTV News on Wednesday.

"We're expecting cooler temperatures and higher humidity today, so we'll try to take advantage of those conditions."

The Newcastle Creek fire was first reported to officials around 1:30 p.m. Monday when it covered an area of 15 hectares. High winds fueled a sixfold increase in size with the blaze reaching 90 hectares by nightfall.

Approximately 60 firefighters, four helicopters and several water tender trucks are battling the blaze, which measured approximately 160 hectares Wednesday.

"That is due in part to more accurate mapping. Yesterday, flying conditions were very poor due to the smoke so we were not able to get an accurate track," said Coastal Fire information officer Julia Caranci.

Sayward Mayor Mark Baker says village officials have "a strong plan in place" in the event that an evacuation is necessary but said current fire activity is proving "favourable" to the community.

"As we know, fire can change direction at any time, but right now we're very fortunate that no buildings have been in jeopardy," Baker told Victoria radio station CFAX 1070 on Wednesday.

"We've got people that are monitoring the situation consistently through the day and night to ensure we have ample time to evacuate, if necessary."

Sayward Mayor Mark Baker is urging anyone who encounters a forest fire – or who accidentally starts one – to alert authorities immediately to protect life and property. (CTV News)

That's good news for resident Allan Petford who had emergency supplies packed in the back of his pickup in case he had to flee.

"I had a jug of gas if I needed it and a big heavy coat and sleeping bags and tarps and ropes and everything's in there," he said.

Petford is appreciative of the amount of manpower going into fighting the wildfire.

"They're probably working pretty hard because that is an uphill climb for the fire, which is not a good thing," he said.

At the Crossroads Restaurant and Pub, the focus has been on feeding those firefighters, according to owner Laura Thiessen.

"I think we started with about 25 firefighters in the beginning and now we're up to 50, so we have 50 mouths to feed and we've been doing their breakfast, their lunch and just taking care of them while they're here," Thiessen said.

Wildfire firefighters are pictured at the Crossroads Restaurant and Pub in Sayward, B.C. (Crossroads Restaurant and Pub)

Thiessen says the restaurant is helping the firefighters with their limited budgets and has also been shifting staff hours to keep the crews fed.

"They need to eat by six in the morning so we come in at four and get everything ready and get them fed and coffee'd up and ready to go for the day," she said. "And then again at night, they come in at seven."

Sandwiches are prepared for firefighters at the Crossroads Restaurant and Pub in Sayward, B.C. (CTV News)

Caranci acknowledges the support the firefighters have received from the community.

"Our people are working very hard and we love what we do, and we so appreciate when the community reaches out to us like that," she said. "So a big thank you to all of the community members out there in Sayward."

As the firefighting efforts continue, Petford is anxious to learn who is responsible for the suspected human-caused fire.

"Was it one person or several? Were there campers up there hunting?" he said. "The thing is, you've got to find tire tracks, you have to find the trails and the tracks and see, was it an automobile or a motorbike?"

A firefighting helicopter is pictured during a wildfire in Sayward, B.C. May 31, 2023. (CTV News)

Caranci says the investigation into the cause of the blaze continues and an answer will hopefully be released after the fire is extinguished.

The provincial wildfire agency says 59 fires are actively burning in the province Wednesday, with 10 fires considered out of control. 

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