Alberta is on fire: the latest on the provincial wildfire situation

Click to play video: 'Wildfire fight: Evacuees look to Mother Nature for relief'
Wildfire fight: Evacuees look to Mother Nature for relief
Rain is in the forecast for Alberta, but it's not expected to help douse the province's raging wildfires and provide relief to exhausted firefighters and frustrated evacuees. Heather Yourex-West explains why; and how the weather is helping in one part of British Columbia, while a different region of the province isn't expecting relief anytime soon – Jun 13, 2023

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since May 4, this post was updated daily to provide Albertans with the latest information on the provincial wildfire situation, including up-to-date details for wildfire evacuees. On June 26, the provincial government announced it would no longer be providing daily situation reports because, although the wildfire situation is not over in the province, it is improving. As a result, this post will no longer be updated. Global News will continue to cover provincial wildfire stories, just not in this post. Albertans can also continue to find the latest Alberta Emergency Alerts by clicking here

Province-wide rain has drastically helped the wildfire situation in Alberta, providing much-needed relief for firefighters and residents whose homes have been threatened by ongoing flames.

The Rocky River wildfire, north of Fort Chipewyan, is now under control and residents will be able to go home this week.

On Tuesday, it was announced Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo residents will return later this week, as the southern perimeter of the wildfire near Fort Chipewyan has been brought under control.

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Phased re-entry operations for Fort Chip, which is accessible by air and boat only outside of winter, are tentatively set to begin on Thursday, June 22. Right now essential workers are heading in to clean up and restock stores and get basic services restarted.

Allan Adam, Chief of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, said the plan is to allow the general public to start to return Thursday and Friday, while vulnerable people and families with kids will be brought back on the weekend.

“If there’s any body left over in Fort McMurray, we will have to determine what they’re doing, and probably get them home on a small fixed-wing plane depending on how long they stay in Fort McMurray.”

“If they do stay in Fort McMurray after Saturday, it’s at their own expense.”

The mandatory evacuation order remains in place, the province said Wednesday. It will be lifted once all essential services in Fort Chipewyan are confirmed ready for everyone to return home.

An evacuation order remains in effect for Little River Cree Nation – Fox Lake.

Earlier this week, Alberta Wildfire said the rain is a welcome relief after a few months of fighting wildfires non-stop.

“It doesn’t mean that we get to take a break but it does offer an opportunity to do some long-term planning, to assess the situation in more detail and for firefighters to continue making progress on the established containment lines and fireguard,” Josee St-Onge, provincial information officer with Alberta Wildfire on Sunday.

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She added the downturn in the weather also means there are fewer new wildfires popping up.

Lightening that comes with the storms can also be a problem, she said. Dry lightning, which isn’t followed by rain, is more likely to cause sparks, but wet lightning that is followed by rain — like what we’ve seen in recent days— is less likely to start a fire, St-Onge explained.

Even though it’s less of a concern, she said officials still do check out those areas and track every lightning strike that hits the province.

The area burned by forest fires in Alberta has surpassed 1.43 million hectares, unofficially making it the largest wildfire season on record.

In 1981, wildfires in Alberta burned 1,357,305 hectares.

Click to play video: 'Alberta wildfires: June forecast not expected to help fire situation'
Alberta wildfires: June forecast not expected to help fire situation

On Tuesday, there were 85 wildfires burning in Alberta — 10 of which are out of control.

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There was one evacuation order in place and one emergency alert issued.

There have been roughly 35,000 Albertans displaced due to wildfires since the beginning of the season. As of Monday, 2,752 people remained displaced.

Edmonton closed its evacuation reception centre at the EXPO Centre Monday afternoon after evacuees from Edson and Yellowhead County were able to go home.

According to the City of Edmonton, nearly 1,800 Albertans registered at the centre between June 9 and Monday.

Click to play video: 'Wildfire threatening Alberta town explodes in size'
Wildfire threatening Alberta town explodes in size

Edson wildfire latest

On Tuesday, the wildfire burning near Edson was finally brought under control and was classified as being held.

The evacuation order for Edson, a town of about 8,000 people, was lifted Thursday. However, a four-hour evacuation alert remains in place for the town.

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“Even as we lift this evacuation order, I want to stress we are on four-hour evacuation alert. Please be ready to leave the area if conditions worsen,” said Edson chief administrative officer Christine Beveridge.

“Wildfires are unpredictable and there’s a very real possibility that we’ll have to evacuate again.

“This fire is like holding a tiger by the tail. We cannot turn our backs on it. This is the reality,” she said.

The wildfire is burning just 1.5 kilometres away from the town. It’s more than 300,000 hectares in size, which is four and a half times the size of the city of Edmonton, Beveridge said.

The town declared a state of local emergency Monday and said the flooding is now the main priority over wildfires.

High-flow water pumps being installed to fight the wildfire near Edson, Alta. on June 12, 2023. Credit: Alberta Wildfire

Officials continue to encourage Albertans to prepare emergency kits and be prepared to leave their homes at a moment’s notice if on evacuation notice, and notices themselves can also come without warning.

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While for some it feels like the blazes have been burning for ages, provincial officials stress fire season is really just the beginning and there’s a lot of potential for more fires as we move into summer.

This is the time to continue to be cautious and aware of the fire situation around the province,” Alberta Emergency Management Agency executive director Bre Hutchinson said June 12.

“Albertans can help by staying informed following fire bans, listening to local officials and having an emergency plan in place.”

Click to play video: 'Edson residents forced to evacuate for 2nd time in 2 months due to wildfires'
Edson residents forced to evacuate for 2nd time in 2 months due to wildfires

Fire ban and OHV ban/restriction

Fire bans were downgraded to fire restrictions in northern areas of the province as of 2 p.m. Thursday.

A fire restriction means people can have wood campfires in designated campgrounds and backyard firepits are permitted on private property.

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Alberta’s wildfire season officially began March 1 — the earliest in Canada and earlier than it used to begin, which was a result of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire. The season ends in October.

As of Thursday, the recreational use of off-highway vehicles is now allowed on public lands across the province.

Boots on the ground

Alberta currently has more than 2,600 personnel working on wildfires, including support from partner agencies across Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Chile and South Africa.

Members of the 3rd Canadian Division and the Royal Canadian Air Force redeployed Tuesday after concluding operations to support firefighting efforts in Alberta.

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Thousands more firefighters have come to Alberta from across Canada and the world to help with the wildfire situation. Alberta will continue to rely on these partnerships going forward, officials said.

Canadian Armed Forces members arriving at the Deep Creek Complex in Yellowhead County on June 12, 2023. Credit: Alberta Wildfire

Alberta Wildfire’s battle continues

According to the Wildfire Alberta website, as of Tuesday, there were four wildfires of note in the forest protection area  — areas along the foothills and all of northern Alberta where fires are managed by the province.

Many of those “wildfires of note” are complexes: several forest fires in a close geographical area that are being attacked together.

The wildfires of note are The Grizzly Complex near Slave Lake, the Kimiwan Complex near Peavine Metis Settlement, the Long Lake Complex near Rainbow Lake and the Paskwa Fire near Fox Lake.

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Last week, the wildfire danger dropped in many of the regions managed by Alberta Wildfire (see map below.)

The Alberta Fire Danger Map. Province of Alberta

For Alberta Wildfire’s jurisdictional purposes, the FPA is divided into 10 regions. For details on each specific region, visit their respective pages:

The fires have destroyed or damaged approximately 275 buildings across Alberta, including homes, businesses, outbuildings and other structures.

Alberta’s wildfire dashboard can be accessed here.

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Evacuation information

For the latest information, status and updates on evacuations, visit the Government of Alberta’s website.

Any evacuee who has been forced out of their home by wildfire for seven days total — not necessarily consecutively — is eligible for provincial funding supports.

Adults can receive $1,250 and an additional $500 for children under 18. People can apply for the Emergency Evacuation Funding through the provincial website.

As of June 21, the province has doled out $44.7 million in evacuation relief funding after receiving more than 25,800 applications from people who have been evacuated from their homes for more than seven days due to the wildfires.

Budget 2023 included $1.5 billion in contingency funds for “unanticipated spending, including disasters and emergencies,” a spokesperson from the province told Global News.

Applications will be open for 30 days after the last evacuation order ends, the province said, so anyone who is eligible can still apply for funding.

Anyone who is unable to apply online or cannot receive an e-transfer is asked to call the wildfire resources line: 310-4455.

For more information on one-time evacuation payments, visit

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Both the federal and provincial governments are matching donations to the Canadian Red Cross to support the disaster relief efforts in Alberta communities.

That means both levels of government will each match every dollar donated to the Canadian Red Cross 2023 Alberta Fires Appeal.

— With files from Meaghan Archer, Karen Bartko, Paula Tran, Emily Mertz, and Phil Heidenreich, Global News

— With files from The Canadian Press

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