01/04/2016 02:37 EST | Updated 01/04/2016 05:59 EST

Ice Jam Near Smithers Threatens Flood

Elsbeth Fielding/Facebook

SMITHERS, B.C. — Residents on the southeast edge of Smithers, B.C., are on high alert as ice jams threaten to flood the area and force people from their homes.

Chunks of ice have been gradually backing up along the Bulkley River for the past two weeks, causing waters to rise and seep into basements and crawl spaces of some nearby homes, said Bill Miller, chairman of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako.

"It's kind of like an orange peel, almost,'' Miller said. "It bunches up down the river and kind of piles up against one another.''

About 15 to 20 homeowners have been warned they may need to evacuate if the water level continues to go up.

ice jam bulkley river

(Photo: Elsbeth Fielding)

ice jam bulkley river

(Photo: Elsbeth Fielding)

Garden wall is typically well above our head height!Regan Fielding is standing there for demonstration.

Posted by Elsbeth Fielding on Sunday, January 3, 2016

Miller said several residents left voluntarily over the holiday season, opting to stay with friends or family instead of living with the stress of a possible evacuation.

Access has been cut off to one residence in the area.

"There is water on the roads. It just isn't too deep right now,'' said Miller.

Spring flooding is normal for the region, Miller said, but ice jams have caused problems in the past.

An evacuation alert was issued for the same general area in January 2012, and about a dozen homes were ordered evacuated in April 2009.

A slideshow uploaded to YouTube on Apr. 23, 2009 shows a car that's been partly submerged in water near Telkwa, B.C. after a jam.

Miller said this year's flooding is a bit odd.

"Normally ice jams are brought on by freeze-thaw cycles and this year we've had a really constant freeze,'' he explained.

"With this one, if you can imagine, it's almost like when the beavers build a dam across a creek. It slowly builds the water up behind the dam,'' Miller said.

He compared the river to a partially clogged sewer, where the channel cycles between opening and freezing.

The regional district is telling residents the ice jam is unpredictable and not to approach the river.

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