A wildfire burning west of Edmonton that grew beyond 2,000 hectares in size overnight has stopped its expansion, however it was still not under control and dozens of people remain out of their homes.
Late Friday afternoon, Parkland County said fire crews managed to stop the direction of the 2,220-hectare wildfire near Tomahawk, and were working to contain the flames.
A mandatory evacuation order was issued just after midnight for county residents located within Highway 22 and Range Road 63 and between Township Road 510 and 524.
A reception centre was set up at the Tomahawk and District Sports Arena (51122 AB-759, Tomahawk, Alta. T0E 2H0.) All evacuees are asked to register online or by phone: 780-203-3258. Parkland County said everyone must register, as this is how people will be contacted for their allotted time to return home for belongings Friday.
“We have not had to house any individuals at this point,” Parkland County Mayor Rod Shaigec said. “This is not a very highly densely populated area. This is largely an agricultural community, thankfully.”
Parkland County said it would organize blocks of time for residents to return to their homes Friday to gather anything they weren’t able to take with them in the middle of the night.
The evacuation order was issued around 12:30 a.m. Friday, after a wildfire sprung up Thursday afternoon west of the hamlet of Tomahawk — which is located just southwest of Wabamun Lake.
Later Friday morning, Parkland County fire chief Brian Cornforth said the wildfire had grown to more than 1,000 hectares in size and that some structures were lost in the fire overnight as high winds fanned the flames.
“This is a rapid fire line that moved very quickly last night. It took a run off to the northwest and we’re almost at Range Road 73 right now,” Cornforth said.
“We lost some structures last night, I don’t have an inventory at this point. We do believe it’s not residences, it would be shops and outbuildings but right now I can’t give you a report on loss of structures.”
Aerial crews were expected to go up again around 1 p.m. to reassess the size of the fire and whether it was being contained or spreading further.
The weather conditions, which include rain, were expected to help crews contain the fire by the end of the day.
Cornforth originally said about 100 people were forced from their homes. Shaigec later downgraded that number to about 45.
“Right now our estimate is about 45 residents that are registered, but we’ve evacuated more residents than that,” Cornforth later clarified.
The fire chief said the evacuation process went pretty smoothly but urged people to stay out of the area.
“These high winds aren’t working in our favour and what we’re trying to do is manage as much as we can and protect structures and just getting people out. That’s number one: life safety here. Safety of the firefighters on the ground,” he said.
“We’re trying to get containment on this. We’ll cut dozer lines in today. We’ve got more aircraft, rotary aircraft coming in and they’ll bucket on this fire today throughout the day. But we’re asking people: Please be patient. We know you want to get back to your residences. Just stay away for now, we’ll let you know when you can get back in.”
Cornforth said some power poles were burned by the fire. Parkland County said Fortis was in the area Friday working to restore power.
More than 60 firefighters have been battling the fire, including crews from Parkland County, Stony Plain, Brazeau County, High Level, Clearwater County and private fire contractors.
At this time it’s not known how the fire started. Because it’s a peat moss area, Cornforth said it will “sit in the ground for a long time.”
“We’re going to be here for a week or two.”
Valerie Goertz is the owner of the Tomahawk General Store. She grew up in the community and has owned the store for 22 years.
She said the outpouring of support from the community has been incredible, with people offering anything they can to evacuees.
“People have brought truckloads full of food,” Goertz said.
“They opened up several rodeo grounds for people to take their animals to. It’s been really, really good. But that is our community. That is what we do. Always.
“Some of the businesses from Drayton Valley brought out hundreds of sandwiches for the firefighters.”
Parkland County said at this time, it is not accepting donations but thanked the community for the outpouring of support.
The Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society said it received many calls Friday about the evacuees of both the Parkland County wildfire and the St. Albert seniors’ home fires, but said no donations — monetary or otherwise — are needed at this time.