‘We got this’: Chief Adam urges calm as Alberta wildfire threatens Fort Chipewyan

Click to play video: 'Wildfire continues to threaten remote Alberta community'
Wildfire continues to threaten remote Alberta community
A wildfire, believed to be sparked by lightning, continues to threaten the remote community of Fort Chipewyan. The area has been evacuated and nearly 1,000 people have fled their homes, but as Nicole Stillger explains, some people chose to stay and help – Jun 1, 2023

Evacuations are wrapping up in the northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan as a wildfire rages out of control just kilometres away.

In a video update, a helicopter can be heard as Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam addresses the camera.

“This is the last of the evacuees leaving our community,” he said, adding that crews helped about 1,000 people leave the hamlet.

Adam points the camera towards the trees, over which smoke is billowing.

“As you see in the background, we’ve got the fire burning,” said Adam.

“We’re going to stay behind and help protect community in ways that we can.

“Don’t worry. Don’t worry about anything. We got this.”

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Samuel McDonald said he has lived in Fort Chip his whole life and has been helping with food and water for evacuees.

“I wanted to stay behind and help best I can until the very end,” said McDonald.

Some of his family members escaped by plane to Fort McMurray, 200 kilometres south, he said.

He said others had access to boats and felt they could stay longer.

“There’s a lot of people in town staying behind and they’re helping out,” he said.

Click to play video: '‘We got this’: Chipewyan Chief urges calm as wildfires rage in remote Alberta community'
‘We got this’: Chipewyan Chief urges calm as wildfires rage in remote Alberta community

McDonald said there’s a lot of smoke in the area but he can’t see the fire quite yet.

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“You can see the plumes of smoke off in the distance in the morning when there’s no wind, there’s just straight smoke around, you can hardly see 500 metres.”

The hamlet is close to empty, he said, with only work trucks and volunteers left.

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam helping coordinate the evacuation order in Fort Chipewyan, Alta. on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. Courtesy: Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

In a video update on Wednesday afternoon, Adam addressed the camera with other leaders from the area.

“If you’re going to evacuate, evacuate now,” said Adam

“If you’re not going to evacuate from the community, you have to be part of the effort of either joining the local fire department or else going to Alberta Forestry Services to help in the efforts.”

The evacuation has been stymied by the lack of exits out of the community: in summer, after an ice road melts, the only way in and out is by boat or air.

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Alberta Wildfire officials said firefighters from around the world are set to arrive in the province in the coming days.

Today, more than 175 new firefighters are arriving from the Yukon, British Columbia and the United States,” said Christie Tucker, information officer for the agency.

“We’ll be welcoming 215 from South Africa. This is truly an international effort.”

Tucker said crews are working on the ground to control the spread of the fire.

“Firefighters will be working on igniting small patches of vegetation just to remove that as something that the wildfire could feed on as it moves closer to the community…It’s one of the tools that we use to control the movement of a fire as much as possible and in a controlled way,” she said.

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Alberta Wildfire said those who have not left should contact PULSE at 780-743-7000.

The wildfire has burned 8,600 hectares since being discovered on Sunday and is 10 kilometres away from the community of Fort Chipewyan.

Click to play video: 'Hundreds of people escape Fort Chipewyan by air or boat as wildfire intensifies'
Hundreds of people escape Fort Chipewyan by air or boat as wildfire intensifies

McDonald said if he was asked to help fight the fires, he would do so in a heartbeat.

“I’ll do my best to remain calm,” he said.

“Sure, it’s stressful. I have that mentality of wait till the end.”

— with files from Nicole Stillger, Global News

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