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20 homes destroyed by wildfire, entire Indigenous community evacuated in northern Alta.


A 4,300-hectare wildfire has destroyed 20 homes in a northern Alberta Indigenous community and forced the entire community to leave.

Fox Lake's police station and Northern Store were also destroyed, according to provincial officials. 

Thursday afternoon, the Paskwa Fire encroached on the barge landing that serves as the main access point for the northern Alberta Indigenous community that is part of the Little Red River Cree Nation.

According to the province, the fire is one of three in the area.

Just before 1 p.m., the chief of the Little Red River Cree Nation directed all residents and essential workers who were still in Fox Lake – located south of the Peace River – to leave immediately.

"We only have approximately 30 minutes prior to the barge crossings being overrun," Chief Conroy Sewepagaham said in a 1:20 p.m. video update.

"We are still working on getting the remaining folks, which is approximately 17 from our count. We're going to do a final run throughout the community. We only got 30 minutes."

More than 3,500 residents had already left. 

In a video taken near Fox Lake's barge landing, the sky was a hazy orange and flames were visible high above the tree line.

The chief and his crew set up a secondary incident command centre in Little Red River, a community along the south side of the Peace River to the west, to help any remaining Fox Lake residents cross Peace River from there. 

Thick smoke from the Fox Lake fire can be seen from the barge landing on Little Red River Cree Nation in northern Alberta. (Source: Jarvis Nanooch)

"The winds are coming this way, so we probably have only less than a couple hours before we have to evacuate from this area. This is our last-ditch effort to get as many people across," he said in a video posted to the nation's Facebook page, ash falling on his face.

He also asked for help from his neighbouring communities: boats to get people across the river, food and water. 

Throughout the afternoon, Sewepagaham posted video updates to the community's Facebook page, notifying the public the fire had grown and was moving west, that it had reached the Fox Lake Airport, and, later, that more homes had been destroyed.

Meanwhile, helicopter resources were pulled from the firefighting team to help with the evacuation. 

In his last update for the evening, Sewepagaham said he believed everyone was accounted for but that firefighters would be on the lookout for any families or individuals who may still be in the area.

"The helicopters are going to continue to throw in buckets of water on as many houses as they can. Unfortunately, we are losing homes left, right and centre," he said.

According to the chief, firefighters were expected to work for a few more hours on structure fires in Fox Lake. 

About three dozen provincial firefighters, six helicopters, heavy equipment and air tankers have been dedicated to the effort. 

"Alberta Wildfire has mobilized an Incident Management Team and they are expected to arrive tomorrow. Additional firefighters have also been requested," the agency said on Thursday.

A reception centre has opened at the Fox Lake Band Office.

Before the end of his video, Sewepagaham thanked everyone who has come to the aid of Fox Lake.

"The last 48 hours has been quite intense for us, so thank you for everything you have done for our nation," he said. "We're going to embark and get across the river, and hopefully when we come back, we rebuild this nation, we rebuild Fox Lake."


Alberta Wildfire is classifying the wildfire as out of control, but reports that it has not crossed the Peace River. 

An update on its size was not available later Thursday because there was too much smoke in the area. 

"Today the fire experienced extreme fire activity on the west side as well as the south and southeast side," Alberta Wildfire said at 9 p.m. 

"Due to the weather conditions, the fire activity challenged firefighters and aircraft. Structure protection resources made progress in setting up structure protection units in strategic areas within the community. Due to the extreme fire activity and unsafe conditions, crews are reevaluating and repositioning as needed. Firefighters and heavy equipment will be working throughout the evening, taking advantage of cooler overnight temperatures. 

"Fire activity is expected to be similar tomorrow due to the weather forecast. Alberta Wildfire has mobilized an Incident Management Team and they are expected to arrive tomorrow. Additional firefighters have also been requested."

Fox Lake's evacuation order was first issued Wednesday afternoon. 

As the fire grew in size and wind pushed it toward the community, officials ramped up evacuation efforts, flying high-risk patients out of Fox Lake and running barge service throughout the night.

Fox Lake is east of High Level, which is 700 kilometres north of Edmonton. Top Stories

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