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Wildfires west of Edmonton force hundreds out of homes

Click to play video: 'Growing wildfires west of Edmonton prompt expansion of evacuation orders'
Growing wildfires west of Edmonton prompt expansion of evacuation orders
People from Entwistle and Evansburg who were forced to flee their homes on the weekend were again told to head further west to Edson on Monday, when a mandatory evacation alert was issued for the Wildwood area. Lisa MacGregor has more from Yellowhead County – May 1, 2023

Several areas of Yellowhead County and Parkland County remained on mandatory evacuation alert Monday and Alberta Wildfire said more than 1,100 people have been affected by evacations.

People from Evansburg and Entwistle were initually told to flee their homes on Saturday and head either east to Wabamun or west to Wildwood, but on Monday, everyone there had to flee further west to Edson.

At 2:15 p.m. Monday, an Alberta emergency alert was issued for Wildwood in Yellowhead County. Residents of the hamlet of Wildwood were told to leave the area Monday afternoon.

The alert means that anyone in Wildwood and areas surrounding Chip Lake “must evacuate immediately… since the wildfire north of Highway 16 is expected to change directions and move south towards Wildwood on Monday.”

Yellowhead County told Wildwood residents to evacuate their homes just after noon on Monday and police starting knocking on doors and telling about 400 people to leave.

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“The Hamlet of Wildwood is under evacuation,” the Yellowhead County post reads. “The wildfire is in the Wildwood and Lobstick area north of Highway 16 in Yellowhead County. A reception centre is at the Edson and District Leisure Centre.”

An update will be provided to residents on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at the Edson and District Leisure Centre.

Yellowhead County mayor Wade Williams said Monday was a good day for fire crews.

“We have a perimeter pretty much all the way around the fire,” he said. “They (crews) were able yesterday to contain the fire to that perimeter, so that’s good news.”

While Williams didn’t want to make any promises on when people might be able to get back into their homes, he was optimistic in terms of fire management “as long as it doesn’t change directions again.”

He urged everyone who’s left their home to register by calling the evacuation information number at 1-833-334-4630.

Click to play video: 'Wildfires prompt evacuation orders in Yellowhead, Parkland counties'
Wildfires prompt evacuation orders in Yellowhead, Parkland counties

Over the weekend, about 800 people were forced to leave their homes in Evansburg in Yellowhead County and about 500 from Entwistle in Parkland County after fires broke out on either side of the communities along the Pembina River.

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No towns are at risk, but some residences in rural Alberta are.

“We did have one home in the rural area outside of Trestle Creek which was consumed by the fire,” said Brian Cornforth, Parkland County Fire Chief.

He said Monday some out buildings and recreational equipment was also lost.

“At this point, we’re protecting all those remaining structures that we can cover in areas that we consider salvageable and safe to work in.

It’s extremely dry across all of Alberta right now, and the temperature is expected to be in the upper twenties, close to 30 C, all week. High winds are also fueling the flames.

“The weather is not great for us and it’s going to be against us for the next couple of days,” Cornforth said.

Click to play video: 'Fire risk in Alberta even more extreme than 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire'
Fire risk in Alberta even more extreme than 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire

No injuries have been reported.

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More than 80 firefighters are battling the fires with help from the air.

“This fire will not be out for several days, if not weeks,” Cornforth said.

Parkland County fire crews going over their plan Monday, May 1, 2023, at Trestle Creek golf course where their command centre is.
Parkland County fire crews going over their plan Monday, May 1, 2023, at Trestle Creek golf course where their command centre is. Global News

There are several road detours and highway closures as fire crews close certain areas to fight the fires.

Highway 22 north and south of Entwistle was closed due to smoke, according to 511 Alberta.

Highway 16, for instance, is closed in both directions and there is an hour-long detour near Wabamun.

“If you’re coming through – either commercial transport or travelling for recreational — you’re going to need to plan a detour through this area,” Cornforth said Monday.

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The mayor of Yellowhead County is urging evacuees to register either by phone at 1-833-334-4630 or in person at the community centres.

Yellowhead County said it is planning a tour into the evacuation and wildfire zone on Tuesday at 1 p.m. in the Wildwood area.

map of Alberta wildfires on Tuesday, May 2, 2023.
Alberta wildfires on Tuesday, May 2, 2023. Facebook: Parkland County

The latest information on the fires and evacuations can be found at emergencyalert.alberta.ca or via the Alberta Emergency Alert App.

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Cornforth said Parkland County firefighters are grateful the emergency alert system is in place.

“We did not have a lot of ramp-up time to let people know. We literally ran door to door and pounded on the door. We did not conduct firefighting in certain areas. We just evacuated the people, we told them: ‘Move out.’ RCMP were assisting that.”

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A large grass fire is shown on Sunday, April 30, 2023, in this handout image provided by Alberta Forestry, Parks and Tourism department. As some Albertans were being told to evacuate or to be ready to flee to safety at a moment’s notice due to multiple grass and brush fires in areas west and northwest of Edmonton. Others were being allowed to return home. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Alberta Forestry, Parks and Tourism

Several wildfires that broke out Saturday continued to burn.

There are two wildfires of note: a 330-hectare wildfire about seven kilometres southeast of Entwistle that is currently listed as out of control and a 3,386-hectare wildfire that is about seven kilometres northwest of Evansburg on both sides of Highway 22 that is also out of control.

“We are providing air tanker support,” said Alberta Wildfire Information Officer Derrick Forsythe. “There are crews that have been tasked to get to the fire. We have helicopters that have been dispatched and we’re providing that technical assistance.

“When fires get to this size, we can do what we can do to slow it down and build the guards to slow its progress, but it would be really nice if we could get some help from Mother Nature with a little bit of rain… If it gets into open, dry grass on a windy day like this it will run at rapid rates of speed – absolutely. So that’s a big challenge for us.”

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Fire bans are in place for dozens of regions, including Parkland, Yellowhead and Strathcona counties.

Click to play video: 'Wildfires grow in both Parkland and Yellowhead counties'
Wildfires grow in both Parkland and Yellowhead counties

Wildfire near Entwistle (Parkland County)

The Entwistle fire was detected on Saturday, April 29.

Structures at risk from the Entwistle fire include scattered farms, Highway 16, communities of Entwistle and Evansburg and the Trestle Creek Golf Course.

Alberta Wildfire is helping Parkland County crews battle this blaze. More than 40 firefighters on the ground, three helicopters and one airtanker group are assigned to battle this fire. Additional resources, including crews, have been requested.

Parkland County fire crews going over their plan Monday, May 1, 2023, at Trestle Creek golf course where their command centre is.
Parkland County fire crews going over their plan Monday, May 1, 2023, at Trestle Creek golf course where their command centre is. Global News

Parkland County has a mandatory evacuation order in place for residents living between Range Road 65 to the Pembina River, north of Township Road 530 to Highway 16, including all residents of Entwistle. Everyone west of Range Road 65 near Entwistle must evacuate.

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“Weather conditions are expected to be challenging for firefighters,” Alberta Wildfire said Monday. “The fire danger is high for the area today.”

The mayor of Parkland County said Sunday the evacuation order there would remain in place for at least another 24 hours.

“The challenges for the fire crews today are the hot weather, low humidity and the consistent winds,” Allan Gamble said.

Brian Cornforth, Parkland County’s fire chief, said crews will attack the blaze from above and from the ground.

“We have the air tanker group from the Alberta Force Protection Group … doing retardant drops and the helicopters are bucketing on hot spots,” Cornforth said.

“We’ll go in ahead of the fire front and we’ll set up sprinklers and we’ll start those sprinklers flowing water onto the properties so that there’s no risk of that property being consumed as the fire approaches.”

He said Monday the fire isn’t yet being held but crews expect it will burn itself out when it runs out of fuel.

Parkland County fire crews going over their plan Monday, May 1, 2023, at Trestle Creek golf course where their command centre is.
Parkland County fire crews going over their plan Monday, May 1, 2023, at Trestle Creek golf course where their command centre is. Global News

“Things are at a hold, I would say. Right now, this fire is not under control. We’re about 80 per cent wrapped with our fire guard, which we’re separating forest fuel from any potential fire and now we’re starting to work on what we call ‘structure protection continued’ in the south of this fire because we know we have a wind shift today. Weather is not great for us.

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“We expect things to be more challenging today. Given the conditions, with the low relative humidity and the wind shift today will give us some new issues today. It’s a challenge and we’re going to stay focused on structure protection.

“Last night we had a bit of growth but we’re not seeing the amount of growth that we saw at the initial stage of this fire. We think this is primarily the most amount we’ll have at this time. Our objective is to manage and trying to flank this fire and cut it off from its fuel.”

Cornforth said Parkland County crews are working closely with Yellowhead County.

“We know that their fire may impact us when the wind shifts, so we’ve got eyes on everything and we’re working closely with our provincial partners from Forest Wildfire Protection Group.

“As the day heats up, we’re going to see conditions get more extreme, we’re going to see some fire activity.”

He thanked people for cooperating with the evacuation order.

“I know it’s hard to leave your home. We’re doing the best we can. We’ll get you back in as soon as we can.”

Click to play video: 'Parkland County wildfires prompts mandatory evacuations of Entwistle, Evansburg'
Parkland County wildfires prompts mandatory evacuations of Entwistle, Evansburg

Wildfire near Evansburg (Yellowhead County)

The Evansburg fire was detected on the evening of April 29. Originally the wildfire was two separate incidents — on the east and west sides of Highway 22 — but they are now combined.

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The 3,386-hectare wildfire was “burning out of control and moving towards the west-northwest,” Alberta Wildfire said Monday. The fire is burning in a mixture of grass, shrub, trees and marsh. Strong winds, warm temperatures and very dry fuel are the main factors contributing to the rapid spread of this wildfire.

Sunday night, dozers were building containment lines on the fire line. Early Monday morning, “firefighters used hand ignition techniques to burn off and remove some of the available fuel to re-enforce existing containment lines.”

Airtankers are starting to build containment lines.

Alberta Wildfire and Yellowhead County are working together to contain the spread. There are 13 pieces of heavy equipment and six helicopters, assisting 75 firefighters.

Two heavy helicopters bucketed water on the south side of the wildfire on Monday and Alberta Wildfire said airtankers were available upon request.

The fire behaviour on Monday was less active then Sunday, said at 6:30 p.m. update from Alberta Wildfire. The majority of the burning occurred within the perimeter and did not grow much further to the north or the south.

Firefighters have completed containment lines nearly all the way around the perimeter except for a small portion of the southeast side of the fire.

“The winds are expected to increase overnight from the north, possibly pushing the fire towards the south and lighten in the morning. Winds may shift from the southeast pushing the fire towards the north in the afternoon,” the update said. 

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Several areas of Yellowhead County and Parkland County remained on mandatory evacuation alert Monday.
Several areas of Yellowhead County and Parkland County remained on mandatory evacuation alert Monday. Global News

The Yellowhead County evacuation order is currently in place for the affected areas in Yellowhead County. All residents in the Lobstick Resort and areas north of Wildwood in Yellowhead County must evacuate immediately. Residents in the hamlet of Evansburg and the area directly south of the hamlet located north of Highway 16 in Yellowhead County must evacuate.

All impacted residents must evacuate to the Edson and District Leisure Centre (1021 49 Street) or the Wabamun Jubilee Hall or call Yellowhead County evacuation registration line at 1-833-334-4630. Authorities say to gather important documents, medication, and enough food and water to be away from home for at least three days. Take pets with you.

“The fire northeast of Wildwood continued to spread overnight and Yellowhead County declared a state of local emergency due to the increased fire activity and risk to residents and other infrastructure,” said Wade Williams, mayor of Yellowhead County, on Sunday.

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“Last night we expected when the wind died down and the temperature dropped and the humidity came, that the fire would slow. It didn’t slow as much as was anticipated.”

The wildfire burning near Evansburg was active Monday, May 1, 2023 and grew to 2,221 ha in size. Evacuation orders remain in place for Parkland and Yellowhead Counties. Courtesy: Facebook/Alberta Wildfire

He said the community is prepared.

“We practice this. We hope it never happens but we’re realistic enough to know that at some point these things will happen in our communities. And it is very critical to be ready.”

Williams said he couldn’t give a timeline or return date for residents.

“All I can assure our residents is we are we are here to protect their safety and, as much as possible, property.”

Wildfire in Yellowhead County, west of Edmonton, on Monday, May 1, 2023.
Wildfire in Yellowhead County, west of Edmonton, on Monday, May 1, 2023. Global News

Susan Cameron had to flee Evansburg and arrived at the Wildwood Community Centre.

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“I was way across town walking my dog when they came around, so I ran home and I just threw a few things into a little bag and I forgot my dog food.

“Two o’clock in the morning we finally got the cots in,” she said. “We got little toiletries and a cot and a couple of blankets, so that was nice.”

Cameron said leaving her home was difficult.

“That feels horrible because you don’t know if you’re going to get burned down there.”

Click to play video: 'Wildfires grow in both Parkland and Yellowhead counties'
Wildfires grow in both Parkland and Yellowhead counties

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