Cabins destroyed in northern Alberta wildfire: ‘I’m terribly sorry’

Click to play video: 'Wildfire continues to threaten remote Alberta community'
Wildfire continues to threaten remote Alberta community
WATCH: 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

Billy-Joe Tuccaro, the chief of Mikisew Cree First Nation, said four homes have been destroyed by the wildfire that’s burning near Fort Chipewyan in northern Alberta.

The First Nation is about 280 kilometres north of Fort McMurray and is part of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

In an update Thursday afternoon, Tuccaro said he had just been on a flight over the Allison Bay area.

“I was notified by Alberta Forestry that we have lost some cabins in the Devil’s Gate reserve area. We tried to get in there to get a good visual but the smoke is heavy and thick.”

Tuccaro said he wasn’t able to see which cabins were destroyed by fire. He added that as soon as community officials know the details, they’ll let anyone affected know.

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“I’m sorry to bring the bad news.”

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

Tuccaro said he’s spoken with Alberta minister of Indigenous Affairs, Rick Wilson, and federal minister of Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu, about support for rebuilding.

“I’m terribly sorry to break that news.”

On May 30, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN), Fort Chipewyan Métis Nation and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) issued a joint evacuation order for the entire Fort Chipewyan community.

The evacuation was more challenging because of the limited exits out of the community: in summer, after an ice road melts, the only way in and out is by boat or air.

In his Thursday update, Tuccaro described the evacuation as “complete.”

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The few dozen Metis community members staying behind will be “helping the Alberta Wildfire team in any way they may ask us.”

“We are committed to stay in community and fight for our hometown. That, I can guarantee you guys 100 per cent,” he said.

“We, the three nations in community, we have between 60 and 70 people that will be standing side by side with the structural fire department to prevent any fire from spreading into community.”

“Evacuees will not be retuning by Tuesday,” Tuccaro said Friday, adding the evacuation order had been extended.

He said evacuees will be getting daily per-diems for financial support.

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

The fire is burning about four kilometres away from the Allison Bay townsite, according to Alberta Wildfire. Tuccaro said that area is top priority, in terms of resources and protection.

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The Alberta Emergency Management Agency is bringing in a high-powered sprinkler trident pump to “increase the line of defense” in Allison Bay, the chief said.

According to Alberta Wildfire, as of 7:30 p.m. Thursday, the fire was about 14,500 hectares in size, burning about 3.5 kilometres from the Fort Chipewyan airport and approximately eight kilometres from Fort Chipewyan.

Wildfire investigators determined that this wildfire was caused by lightning. It started May 28.

Currently, there are 60 firefighters working to contain this wildfire, along with multiple aircraft and several pieces of heavy equipment.

Since Monday, 820 people have safely left the community, Alberta Wildfire said.

Tuccaro said the First Nations chiefs have also spoken with the military and requested boots on the ground, medical services and more fire equipment and tools.

He said there are ground crews putting up sprinklers at the Devil’s Gate reserve area.

In an update Friday afternoon, Tuccaro said military troops were expected to arrive Saturday, with “boots on the ground” by Sunday. He said there were 100 more firefighters coming as well.

Christie Tucker with Alberta Wildfire confirmed the Canadian Armed Forces is positioned to deploy 85 soldiers from PPCLI to the fire near Fort Chipewyan, being called the “Rocky River Fire,” on Saturday to support Alberta Wildfire firefighting efforts there.

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The military has also been using aircraft to transport fire equipment, like a fire truck, into the remote community.

“There are communities that are more difficult to access by road — or impossible to access by road,” Tucker said. “But we are very resourceful.”

Click to play video: 'Canadian military helping airlift wildfire evacuees out of Fort Chipewyan'
Canadian military helping airlift wildfire evacuees out of Fort Chipewyan

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