The town of Drayton Valley and surrounding areas of Brazeau County were ordered to evacuate late Thursday night as a wildfire in the area grew and threatened the central Alberta community.
The out-of-control wildfire is burning southeast of Drayton Valley.
The town is home to around 7,000 people, according to census data.
“Hopefully our town doesn’t go up in flames,” Niklas Posein told Global News after he and his family, including his dog, were able to safely drive out of the town and spoke to Global News while stopped in Tomahawk.
“Traffic was definitely crazy … Cars were going crazy, swerving in and out of traffic. It was intense.”
Posein said some members of his family were scared, “as expected.”
All residents in the area of Township Road 484 north to Township Road 494, and North Saskatchewan River west to Range Road 80 were told to leave immediately when the evacuation order was issued.
The order included the entire town of Drayton Valley.
Residents were told to leave via Highway 22 north to Highway 624, then east on that road to Tomahawk, north of Highway 759, then east again on Highway 627 towards Stony Plain.
At 4 a.m., the county sent a new alert telling evacuees to head to Edmonton and register at the Edmonton Expo Center (7515 118 Ave.) in Hall C.
The county said for anybody that was unable to leave the community, a staging area was being established at Kal Tire with buses available to take people out of Drayton Valley towards Stony Plain.
Anyone unable to get out of their house was asked to call 780-542-7777 immediately.
Heavy fire activity was expected south of Highway 22 on the hill overlooking the North Saskatchewan River.
Posein said before the evacuation order was issued, he and some friends sat by the side of the road and watched the fire for a bit.
“We watched it climb down right from the hill, watched it jump the river and went home, packed some stuff,” he said. “It’s pretty bad over there.”
Posein said he expected to go to Stony Plain with his family and would likely sleep in his vehicle if he was unable to secure a hotel room.
Cameron Roberts and Brooklynn Borle said they left their residence in the centre of Drayton Valley and experienced “crazy” traffic while making their way out.
“We’re just waiting for my parents to come along,” Roberts said. “We’re going to meet up with them and see what’s going to happen.
“The lineup to leave Drayton Valley is ridiculous so I don’t think they’re on their way yet.”
Borle said she was worried about people who do not have access to a vehicle or are unable to drive.
“(I was) a tad nervous,” she said, when asked how she felt when the evacuation order was issued.
“Drayton (Valley) hasn’t been evacuated like that like ever, pretty much, at least in the past 25 years from what I’ve heard.”
Road blocks were being set up at the following locations:
Highway 22 and Highway 620
Highway 22 and 50th Street (at the derricks)
Highway 22 and Range Road 71
The order to flee came just half an hour after more areas in the region, including the town, were put in alert to be ready to get out.
The county also declared a state of local emergency on Thursday.
As of Thursday evening, the wildfire was approximately 340 hectares in size, up from 140 in the morning.
Drayton Valley/Brazeau County fire crews and equipment were working to get the fire under control again and people were being asked to stay away from the area.
The wildfire broke out Wednesday afternoon just southeast of Drayton Valley, on the other side of the North Saskatchewan River.
Initially, the wind was blowing the fire south on Wednesday evening, but a thunderstorm moved through the area around suppertime and afterwards, the winds began pushing the flames northwest. The fire then grew throughout the day Thursday.
The fire department said one structure – an outbuilding – had been lost.
Drayton Valley/Brazeau County Fire Services and Alberta Forestry were called in and a water bomber was helping.
Additional fire crews from Parkland County to the north and Wetaskiwin County to the east were also called in to help.
The area is home to several farms but fire officials said so far, no livestock have needed to be moved.
The county said no assistance or resources from the community are required at this time, either at the site of the fire or the reception centre.
A total fire ban is in effect for Brazeau County and the town of Drayton Valley.
— With files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Phil Heidenreich and Emily Mertz