Northern Alberta wildfire destroys at least 11 homes in Paddle Prairie, 80 at risk
*EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally posted on May 28. It was updated on May 30.
Between 11 and 15 homes in Paddle Prairie have been destroyed by fire and 80 more are at risk.
Blake Desjarlais, a spokesperson with the Metis Settlements General Council, told Global News on Thursday that an out-of-control wildfire is moving southeast, putting additional homes and structures at risk.
The homes that were destroyed were in the northeast corner of the Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement, about five kilometres from the Paddle Prairie town site.
Paddle Prairie is located about 70 kilometres south of High Level and 30 kilometres north of the County of Northern Lights.
Desjarlais said only a few people — settlement staff or volunteers — were still there since the community had been evacuated. They were manning water stations to ensure firefighters had access to pressurized water.
Watch below: (From May 30, 2019) The wildfire situation in northern Alberta appears to be intensifying. New images from the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement show the toll fire has already taken on their community.
Wildfire information officer Claire Allen said the main impact on Paddle Prairie is from the Chuckegg Creek fire, burning just outside High Level. That fire grew 100,000 hectares overnight to an estimated 230,000 hectares Thursday.
“Yesterday, it made a run of a little bit more than 22 kilometres to the south in approximately a 16-hour period,” wildfire information officer Derek Gagnon said.
“At average pace, it was going about 23 metres per minute.”
Whether that rate of growth will continue depends on the weather, Gagnon said, adding that lower temperatures were expected Thursday.
“That was an extremely intense wildfire burning very hotly and moving very quickly,” he said. “So, it went beyond what we were capable of stopping it with the guards we had in place and made that intense run towards the Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement.
“We do know that the fire crossed the Peace River at some point within the past 12 hours.
“It’s a very intense wildfire that’s moved quite a distance in a short period of time.”
Allen said crews were on the ground Thursday afternoon, trying to assess the potential damage and to work with the municipality and local structural firefighters. The heavy smoke, however, was making surveillance and fire attack difficult.
In a post on Facebook Thursday morning, the Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement said crews were putting out grass fires by the highway and along the creek.
“They are going to get a map and start driving around once they can see far enough to drive. They will start assessing structures affected before too long. I know you are all anxious and we will continue to update as the information comes.”
The community also shared some photos of the fire taken by Dean Ducharme.
“We all have been deeply impacted by this devastation; we experienced fear, sadness, anger and mourning our loss but we will get through this together,” the post continued.
“We’re a small community where everybody knows each other,” Pudgin Wanuch said of the fire in Paddle Prairie. “[We] know where every house is located and you can see that the first house, the fire was right on its doorstep — we pretty much wrote off that house.
“It just kept coming — the fire, so we backed off.”
Provincial officials updated the wildfire situation Thursday afternoon. At that time, they couldn’t confirm if structures in Paddle Prairie had been damaged or destroyed, deferring to the local fire response team.
Shane Schreiber with Alberta Emergency Management said the structural protection unit hadn’t reported any structural loss in Paddle Prairie, but said there could be some on the borders or outskirts of the community or in more remote areas.
Premier Jason Kenney said he was very sorry to hear homes were lost.
“That forest fire came to that community very quickly,” he said Friday, at an event in Calgary. “The priority of the wildfire service is human life and then after that, it’s property. So the focus was on the rapid evacuation. I’m pleased that apparently no one has been injured.”
Kenney said Minister of Forestry Devin Dreesen and senior emergency officials met with leaders of the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement and the Métis Council of Alberta on Thursday.
“Additional resources have been deployed to that area,” he said.
“We look forward to working with the leadership of that community to address their issues urgently. I hope to speak with the settlement leader myself.”
An evacuation order for the Town of High Level and Mackenzie Country, as well as areas south/southeast of town, was put in place more than a week ago.
Further south, another wildfire – called the Battle River fire – was threatening the area near Manning, Alta.
Watch below (May 30): Wildfires continue to ravage parts of northern Alberta and one of the blazes is burning near the town of Manning. Julia Wong has the latest.
The Town of Manning, including residents north of from Township Road 910, also known as the North Star Road, south from Township Road 922, also known as Notikewin Road, and everyone west of Range Road 231, was told Wednesday night to be prepared to evacuate on short notice.
This evacuation alert was issued by the Emergency Coordination Centre due to extremely dry conditions and unstable wildfire activity.
Areas to the north were evacuated Wednesday night.
“In the event that an evacuation order is given, the county will instruct you on an evacuation route and reception centres at that time,” the county said on Tuesday.
–With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich
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