10,000 people forced out, 16 homes destroyed by Alberta wildfires
The Alberta government said hot, dry and windy conditions fueling the northern wildfires aren’t going away soon and will make fighting them difficult, so people need to prepare themselves.
“This fight is going to be a tough one,” said Devin Dreeshen, Alberta’s minister of agriculture and forestry. “The weather is not co-operating for the long-distance forecast for the next two weeks. It’s more of the same.”
“Albertans need to prepare themselves for this situation for the foreseeable future.”
Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says Alberta has asked for Canadian Forces assistance and the federal government has accepted the request.
Goodale says the military will be ready to help airlift evacuees as needed, as well as transport supplies and provide medical assistance.
WATCH: 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.
He says federal officials are working with counterparts in Alberta to co-ordinate the response.
The province is slightly under the five-year average for number of fires. But the amount of land burned is more than 3.5 times higher.
WATCH: Residents in Trout Lake were forced from their homes Friday as a wildfire burned close to the area. Kent Morrison has more from the Red Creek Earth evacuation centre.
The wildfires raging across the northern part of the province have forced about 10,000 people from their homes — double the number from the beginning of the week.
“We began the day [Wednesday] with approximately 5,500 evacuees and we currently have over 10,000,” Dreeshen said in an update Thursday afternoon, after a day of hot temperatures and gusty winds led to the explosive growth of several blazes burning out-of-control.
About 5,000 people have been out of their homes in and around High Level in northwestern Alberta for more than a week. This week even more people from that region, as well as from near a separate wildfire by Manning about 250 kilometres to the south, were told they had to leave.
Watch below: Julia Wong has an update on the wildfire situation near Manning, Alta.
The wildfire threatening Manning is called the Battle Complex Fire. As of Friday, it was about 52,000 hectares and still several kilometres to the northwest of Manning. Shifting winds and thick smoke remain big challenges for firefighers, who have come from as far away as Kenora and Timmins to help.
Many of the evacuees from those two large wildfires travelled south to Peace River. After an influx of evacuees on Wednesday, the town said hotel rooms were at capacity and was recommending new evacuees head to a reception centre in High Prairie.
A series of smaller communities, including Wabasca, the Bigstone Cree Nation and Chipewyan Lake Village, have fallen under evacuation orders since Wednesday as a two out-of-control fires – Maria Lake and McMillan Complex – merge together.
Where are all the wildfires?
Hundreds of structural and forest firefighters are in Alberta from across Canada doing their best to corral the flames. Across the province, there were 28 active fires and nine were considered out-of-control.
Of the wildfires, there are three main ones affecting communities:
- The far northwestern Chuckegg Creek wildfire near High Level
- The Battle Complex wildfire near Manning in the Peace River region
- The McMillan Complex wildfire north of Slave Lake
BELOW: Map of the wildfires burning in Alberta as of noon on Friday, May 31, 2019
The biggest blaze is the Chuckegg Creek fire raging near High Level, which covered 2,600 square kilometres Friday.
Homes destroyed in Paddle Prairie
An official with the Metis Settlements General Council says 15 homes and two community buildings in the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement have been destroyed by that fire and 80 more are at risk.
Paddle Prairie is located about 70 kilometres south of High Level and 30 kilometres north of the County of Northern Lights. About 800 people live in the settlement.
Blake Desjarlais, the council’s director of public and national affairs, says fire authorities confirmed the number late Thursday after surveying the evacuated Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement.
The homes are widely scattered in the settlement’s northeast, but Desjarlais says Paddle Prairie’s hamlet about five kilometres away is also at risk and the total number of properties destroyed could rise depending on fire conditions.
He says none of the homes were insured and it’s hoped the Alberta government will bring in modular housing to accommodate displaced owners.
“It’s like a burnt piece of toast up there,” said Desjarlais as he described the path of destruction in Paddle Prairie. “The whole land has been scorched.”
Bison and cattle ranchers have also had to turn their animals loose.
“They had to release them and they don’t know the status of their animals,” Desjarlais said. “That fire would have chased them really, really far away or they wouldn’t have made it out of the fire at all.”
Desjarlais said local residents are upset they didn’t get more notice to prepare to leave.
“They honestly feel that if they had been given more evacuation notice they would have been able to get pets, they would have been able to get valuables.”
BELOW: Photos from Paddle Prairie
Premier Jason Kenney said Friday he was very sorry to hear homes had been lost in the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement and that the province would work community leaders to “address their issues urgently.
“I hope to speak with the settlement leader myself,” he said.
Fire destroys home in Mackenzie County
On Friday afternoon, the Town of High Level shared a Facebook post on behalf of the Mackenzie County Incident Command Centre in which it acknowledged a home there had been consumed by fire.
“We were saddened to hear one of the homes in the Blue Hills area of Mackenzie County has been lost to the fire,” reads the post, which was attributed to Joshua Knelsen.
“The deepest sympathy of our entire county goes out to the members of our community who lost their home,” the post goes on to say. “I spoke with them last night and we will do our best to support them as much as we can.”
Knelsen also expressed sympathy of those who lost homes in the Métis settlement of Paddle Prairie.
Slave Lake on evacuation standby
People in Slave Lake, a town that was partially destroyed in a 2011 blaze, have been told to be prepared to leave with eight hours notice because of a fire that the mayor says is burning about 30 kilometres away.
While an evacuation order was issued Thursday afternoon for the hamlet of Marten Beach, about 20 kilometres north of Slave Lake, Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman said the 1,800-square-kilometre fire was not an immediate threat to his community.
However, Alberta Wildfire said heavy smoke Thursday over the wildfires in the Slave Lake forest area reduced the “fire behaviour intensity.” As of 1 p.m. Friday, “overall fire behaviour of these wildfires was low to moderate, and they were not spreading significantly.”
On Friday morning, Slave Lake said it was at capacity and would not be accepting any more evacuees.
“We recommend new evacuees follow the directions issued under the evacuation order for your community or proceed to Edmonton,” the town said. “High Level Evacuees should stay in Slave Lake.”
LISTEN BELOW: Global News reporter Kent Morrison joins Ryan Jespersen on 630 CHED from Slave Lake
“The MD has declared a local state of emergency because of that, but we’re not panicked at this point,” said Warman, who was a town councillor and firefighter during the 2011 wildfire that raced through part of Slave Lake, destroying more that 400 homes and buildings.
LISTEN BELOW: Mayor Tyler Warman joins Ryan Jespersen on 630 CHED
He said the fires are bringing back memories.
“We are more prepared than we have ever been. We’re more cautious than we have been in the past.”
WATCH: Kent Morrison reports live from Slave Lake with the latest on Friday morning.
Poor air quality due to smoke
Smoke from the fires enveloped points south, including Edmonton, in a acrid haze that limited visibility and made it difficult to breathe. The thick smoke turned otherwise blue skies an eerie grey-orange across Alberta.
A special air-quality statement issued by Environment Canada for the Edmonton region and later expanded to most of the province remained largely in place Friday morning.
“Shifting winds are causing the smoke to drift and most of Alberta will be impacted by this smoke in the coming days,” Dreeshen said.
“Smoke is a huge factor in this challenge for not only for health reasons but for the wildland firefighters on the ground. The loss of visibility makes it extremely difficult to use air supports.”
Smoke has also drifted into five U.S. states — Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington state and Wyoming. Air quality in three Montana cities was rated unhealthy Friday morning.
WATCH: The wildfires in northern Alberta impacted Edmontonians on Thursday as smoke created air quality concerns. Kendra Slugoski reports.
— With files from Heide Pearson and Karen Bartko, Global News
© 2019 The Canadian Press