Residents who were forced to evacuate Tuesday due to an out-of-control wildfire west of Edmonton were allowed to return home Wednesday evening.
The wildfire, located about nine kilometres northwest of the hamlet of Evansburg, north of Highway 16 and west of Highway 22, had grown from 143 hectares Tuesday evening to 181 hectares Wednesday morning, according the Alberta Wildfire.
“There is currently some fire behaviour being observed within the interior of the wildfire. There are some flames visible, but the fire is mainly smoldering on the ground and doesn’t appear to be growing in size,” a statement from the province released Wednesday afternoon read.
“We anticipate the fire behaviour to increase as the temperatures do throughout the day.”
Alberta Wildfire said 50 residents from the community of Lobstick were forced to leave their homes due to the wildfire Tuesday. Phylis Miller and John Miller were were among them.
“I saw a lot of smoke, yeah, big smoke, and it was only about a kilometre from George’s he said — one of the other residents there,” John Miller said.
“I was there in the motorhome and the police come up and said, ‘You gotta get out of here right now.’ He said he’s not coming back to give me a second warning, so luckily I had my truck out there, so I fired it up and came to town.”
The couple was provided accommodations overnight in Drayton Valley by Yellowhead County.
The Millers said they were told there was no damage to their property or any of their neighbours. The couple was hopeful they could return home by Wednesday evening.
George Hyshka was also forced to leave his Lobstick home. Visibly emotional, Hyshka said the situation has been difficult.
“It was terrible,” he said.
“Me and the dog didn’t sleep. At five o’clock this morning, we drove down to Range Road 90 just to find out everything is good.”
Late Wednesday afternoon, residents learned they would be allowed to return to their homes by 7 p.m.
“That’s just an evaluation done by the on-site firefighters and Yellowhead County staff to evaluate that,” Stefan Felsing, communications coordinator with Yellowhead County, said.
As they returned, residents were asked to bring proof of residency in case they came across a checkstop, since Highway 16A remained closed to everyone except evacuated residents. On Thursday evening, an update was provided that Highway 16A had reopened to traffic.
Fesling said residents would remain on evacuation watch because the wildfire was still out of control and patrols would be in the area overnight.
“We’re just making sure that our residents are safe and taken care of. That’s why we’ll have those patrols and watches all night, as well we’ll be doing fire structure protection with our sprinklers in the area,”Felsing said.
Speaking with Daryl McIntyre on 630 CHED Thursday morning, Yellowhead County Mayor Jim Eglinski credited the hard work of fire crews, saying they are doing a fantastic job.
He asked people to continue to be cautious of their outdoor activities, given the hot, dry conditions in the area.
“The message is that people need to be very cautious if they have open fires going,” Eglinski said. “We encourage people to come here and it’s great for the economy of the region for the people who come here and camp and utilize the rivers in the area.
“All we ask is they be very careful with the fires.”
Alberta Wildfire said there have been no reported injuries.
An evacuation centre was set up at the Evansburg Arena. The emergency information number for residents is 1-833-334-4630.
There are 32 firefighters, seven helicopters and six airtankers fighting the wildfire Wednesday morning, the province said. Six pieces of heavy equipment were on standby and more crews were expected to arrive on scene later in the day.
“The Yellowhead County firefighters were doing structure protection throughout the night and during the day today to provide preventative measures to the residential and recreational properties in the area,” Alberta Wildfire information officer Colby Lachance said.
A 20-kilometre stretch of Highway 16 between Evansburg and Chip Lake was closed in both directions overnight, forcing drivers to detour, however the province said the Yellowhead reopened Wednesday afternoon.
The Alberta Emergency Alert said Evansburg and Wildwood-area residents who live along Highway 16, east of Highway 22 up to Highway 16A, were also evacuated.
“It is concerning if winds do pick up, but with higher temps we do see flames in the interior of the fire. However it was a good day for not as many flames, not much smoke. So we expect to see a lot of really good work done on this fire today,” Lachance said.
The fire is in the Edson Forest Area, where a fire advisory is in effect and the wildfire danger is listed as very high.
Evansburg is about 90 kilometres west of Edmonton.
— With files from Karen Bartko, Global News