May 28, 2019 2:33 pm
Updated: May 28, 2019 9:40 pm

Alberta wildfire continues to grow, but is spreading away from High Level

WATCH ABOVE: Thousands of people forced out of High Level and surrounding communities in northern Alberta by a wildfire had a reason for optimism Tuesday. Fletcher Kent explains.

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A fire burning near a northern Alberta town has grown slightly, but officials say firefighters are making good progress.

The Chuckegg Creek fire, currently the largest in the province, is about three kilometres southwest of High Level, where crews have been creating a fire break to protect the town.

READ MORE: Acts of kindness make impressions on High Level wildfire evacuees

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“We are still experiencing the main area of spread away from the town of High Level,” Alberta Wildfire information officer Victoria Ostendorf said Tuesday afternoon.

“The wind has actually been in our favor and allowed us to make great progress on the fire guard… It’s enabled our firefighters to work safely.”

Ostendorf explained the active fire is now pushing back on an area that’s already been burned so there’s no substantial fuel for it to grow. Despite some backburning, Ostendorf stressed the main fire activity remains to the north and northwest, west of the town.

Watch below: Alberta Wildfire information officer Victoria Ostendorf says fire guards and preventative measures put in place to keep the fire from spreading into High Level are working well.

The province says the fire has grown to 1,300 square kilometres (130,000 hectares), up from 1,270 on Monday, but that most of the spread is away from the community.

Officials say the wildfire danger in the area continues to be extreme due to warmer temperatures and no rainfall in the forecast.

Watch below: Alberta Wildfire information officer Victoria Ostendorf says a wildfire is similar to a campfire in the way it starts, spreads and acts. She uses this analogy to describe the current status of the High Level wildfire.

Environment Canada also had a special air quality statement in place for northern Alberta, including High Level, due to smoke from the fire.

READ MORE: Alberta wildfire haze reaches Metro Vancouver as smoke season comes early

“We are experiencing some smoky conditions this morning,” Ostendorf said. “The west winds are blowing the smoke over the town. We also had an inversion this morning. That traps the cold air from the warm air above, which actually does aid fire activity and decreases it a bit.

“The air quality has been affected,” she said.

On Tuesday, the Air Quality Health Index was Level 9 (high risk) for parts of northern Alberta, compared to a Level 7 on Monday.

Watch below (May 27): High Level residents who fled the Chuckegg Creek wildfire are beginning to receive debit cards from the province. Julia Wong reports.

About 5,000 people were ordered to leave High Level and surrounding communities eight days ago.

Those evacuees have started to receive provincial emergency funds but have been told not to expect to return home before this weekend.

READ MORE: High Level students affected by wildfire given multiple choices for writing final exams

In order to consider lifting the evacuation order, Ostendorf said the unified command team, which includes town officials and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, has to ensure three conditions: that the fire isn’t putting anyone at risk, that essential services are back up and running and that air quality is OK.

Watch below (May 28): The mayor of High Level is now laying out a possible timeline for re-entry after a wind change Sunday tested the preventative work fire crews had been working on this past week. Fletcher Kent reports.

Officials also say there is a second out-of-control wildfire in the High Level forest area and fire lookout observers are watching carefully for new ones.

About 168 firefighters are working to protect homes and other properties in the area, while 420 firefighters aided by 28 helicopters are fighting the fire itself.

Smoke from the wildfire near High Level creating haze in Banff, Alta., May 28, 2019.

Jayme Doll, Global News

As of Tuesday at 10 a.m., there were 22 wildfires burning in Alberta; six of which were listed as out of control.

Watch below (May 27): Hot and dry conditions continue to make fighting the wildfires in northern Alberta a challenge. Fletcher Kent reports.

On Tuesday evening, the Alberta Emergency Management Agency issued an update on the wildfire situation in and around the High Level area and said the wildfire in Mackenzie County has crossed Highway 35 north of Steen River.

“This highway is barricaded seven kilometres north of Steen River,” the update said. “Anyone in this area must leave… and travel south on Highway 35. Persons leaving this area can go to the Heritage Centre in La Crete.

“Smoke will create hazardous driving conditions in the area.”

— With files from Emily Mertz, Global News and Phil Heidenreich, Global News

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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