An out-of-control wildfire burning southeast of Hinton, Alta. had not grown in size Friday morning but officials said it remained dangerous to the Edson Forest Area.
The wildfire had grown to to 1,200 hectares on Thursday, but the Alberta Wildfire website showed it was 1,137 hectares at 10:30 a.m. Friday and 15 per cent contained.
Seventy firefighters, heavy equipment and seven helicopters were continuing to battle the blaze on Friday. Crews were focusing their efforts on the north side of the wildfire, while air tankers focused on the south side, Alberta Wildfire said.
On Thursday afternoon, Alberta Wildfire said Fickle Lake and McLeod Campgrounds had been closed to limit access for public and emergency responder safety. The wildfire was six kilometres from McLeod Campground on Friday morning.
Crews and heavy equipment built a six-kilometre fire guard from Wednesday evening to Thursday morning at the north end of the fire, as well as a two-kilometre guard to the south.
Alberta Wildfire said the strategy was to have airtankers and dippers provide support for heavy equipment on Thursday to bring the fire under control.
“Our firefighters are world class and they are fighting the fire as best they can right now,” Alberta Wildfire said on its website.
The fire is located about 15 kilometres southeast of Hinton, which has a population of about 10,000 people. On Friday morning, Alberta Wildfire said communities are not being threatened.
Alberta Wildfire said an inversion was pushing smoke across the area and motorists, especially along Highway 16, were being asked to use extreme caution.
On Friday morning, Robb Road between Hinton and Robb remained closed to traffic, while Hargwen Road from both Highway 16 and Robb Road and Pembina River Road junction and Mercoal Mainline were restricted.
On Thursday, officials said high winds, combined with a lack of precipitation, were creating a “very high” wildfire danger in the Edson Forest Area.
“Anytime you get dry conditions with winds that are fairly excessive, these smaller fires are able to grow very quickly and sort of become larger fires,” Travis Fairweather, an information officer with Alberta Wildfire, told Global News.
Mike Boyko is working in the Hinton area and said he first realized a wildfire was likely burning somewhere in the area shortly after lunch.
“I noticed a smoke plume coming from south of town and then after work it came closer to the Hinton area and I noticed it was not too far away,” he told Global News, adding he’s been told, “we’re in no immediate danger.”
Boyko said despite that, some people in town are taking precautions just in case.
“There’s a recent history in Alberta with wildfires and we’ve been keeping a watchful eye,” he said.
“I know some folks have filled up their gas tanks and have… [travel] bags ready to go at a moment’s notice if that’s something they need to do, but right now it seems to be contained.”
Fairweather said he understands why people may be worried but that at this point, he’s confident there is no threat.
“When you get a fire of this size and this activity, you’re going to see a lot of smoke and that smoke can travel a lot further than the fire would so it would appear very close to the town and obviously give people a bit of concern,” he said. “But the fire is a very far distance away right now.
“[The fire] is being pushed away by the wind, and even if the wind were to shift, 15 kilometres is actually a fairly large distance for even a wildfire to travel.”
Late Wednesday night, officials said they were requesting that people “stay off lakes that are being used to draw water to fight fires.”
People are asked to use “extreme caution” when having a campfire in the area. Any other type of burning in the Forest Protection Area requires a permit.
Since March 1, there have been 75 wildfires in the Edson Forest Area.
Late Wednesday night, Alberta Wildfire said an information station would be set up at Green Square in Hinton on Thursday morning where area residents can drop by to get the latest updates on the situation.
On Thursday afternoon, Alberta Wildfire said air quality will be monitored in communities affected by smoke. Anyone with respiratory issues can call 811 or visit Alberta Health Services.
Hinton is located about 285 kilometres west of Edmonton.