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Alberta wildfires: Fort Chipewyan, accessible by boat and air only, ordered to evacuate

Click to play video: 'Alberta wildfire activity increasing after break in conditions, Fort Chipewyan wildfire breaks out'
Alberta wildfire activity increasing after break in conditions, Fort Chipewyan wildfire breaks out
Alberta Wildfire information unit manager Christie Tucker gave an update on Tuesday, May 30, 2023, saying after a cool weather break, fire conditions in parts of the province were beginning to increase again and a new wildfire near Fort Chipewyan was the main forest fire of concern for emergency officials – May 30, 2023

Just hours after Alberta Wildfire said the fire situation remains extreme in northeastern Alberta due to a lack of rain experienced elsewhere in the province this week, evacuations began Tuesday night in a remote community with no road access.

The wildfire is threatening Fort Chipewyan, located north of Fort McMurray.

It’s a community of around 1,000 people only accessible by plane or boat in the summer and by a winter road in the winter.

During the daily fire update on Tuesday, Alberta Wildfire information unit manager Christie Tucker said the fire was detected Sunday at 300 hectares but has grown tenfold in the past 48 hours to more than 3,000 hectares.

Tuesday evening, Fort McMurray Forest Area Alberta Wildfire information officer Emily Smith told Global News the fire has grown, but she wasn’t able to say by how much yet. Smoke in the area was inhibiting aerial surveillance.

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The fire is about 13 kilometres away from Fort Chipewyan but closer to the airport, and even closer to Allison Bay, a First Nations community of about 125 people.

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation, Fort Chipewyan Métis Nation and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo issued a joint evacuation order for the entire Fort Chipewyan community just after 7 p.m. Tuesday, after putting it on a 15-minute alert earlier in the day.

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The remote, isolated nature of the community means people can’t just pack up their belongings and drive to safety.

At this time, the priority for evacuation is vulnerable and elderly people. If you are in this group, you are asked to register at the Archie Simpson Arena. Do not go directly to the airport at this time, the evacuation alert said.

People with pets were told to bring them to the arena as well, with a leash and crate if possible, as plans are in place to keep animals safe.

The RMWB said the evacuation will be done in stages and will begin with residents in Allison Bay — the nearest community to the wildfire.

Residents will be informed through the three Nations or emergency officials by phone or door-to-door once their neighbourhood is ready to be evacuated.

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Air transportation to Fort McMurray is being arranged, as well as temporary accommodations in Fort McMurray and Fort McKay.

There are limited flights available for the remainder of Tuesday and the municipality said the majority of people will be transported out of Fort Chipewyan on Wednesday, beginning around 8 a.m.

“If you do not live in Allison Bay or are not a vulnerable person, please wait until tomorrow to register as an evacuee and leave the community,” the update said.

Fort Chipewyan leadership asked all residents to remain calm and wait to be informed.

All evacuees were told to report to Archie Simpson Arena to receive a wristband and be assigned a flight.

Residents evacuating by boat on the Athabasca River were told to report to Big Dock before travelling south to Fort McKay or to their cabin. An evacuation registration centre will also be located in Fort McKay, the community said.

The fire, MWF025, is located approximately 4 kilometres from Allison Bay and 8 kilometres from the Fort Chipewyan airport.

This wildfire is classified as out of control and Alberta Wildfire said it was caused by lightning.

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Currently, there are three helitack crews, six bucketing helicopters and two airtanker groups working to contain this wildfire.

Alberta Wildfire said Tuesday it was considered the number one priority wildfire in the province and resources from the RMWB and across the province were being brought into the community.

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