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Out-of-control wildfire spurs evacuation order in northern Alberta

A wildfire burns in northern Alberta on July 10, 2024. (Source: Alberta Wildfire) A wildfire burns in northern Alberta on July 10, 2024. (Source: Alberta Wildfire)
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A wildfire evacuation alert for 700 Garden River residents has been upgraded to an evacuation order.

"Garden River is on an evacuation order as of 12:00 p.m.," read the alert.

The order was issued due to a wildfire burning 10 kilometres from Highway 58.

Officials say Garden River is not in any immediate danger, but highway access could be cut off because of the fire.

Residents have been told to pack food, water and medication for multiple days and go to the Horizon camp at John D'or Prairie, Alta.

Garden River is a Cree community located about 200 kilometres east of High Level in northern Alberta.

The fire, dubbed HWF061, is part of the Semo wildfire complex, which includes blazes HWF053, HWF061, HWF081, HWF083.

As of Thursday afternoon, the fire was 39,955 hectares in size, the largest fire in the complex.

Alberta Wildfire says there are 112 firefighters and support staff assigned to the Semo complex, as well as eight helicopters and 18 pieces of heavy equipment.

"Heavy equipment operators continue both day and night to the south perimeter of the fire to gain better access. Helicopters will continue to bucket along priority areas. Night vision helicopters worked this fire overnight to extinguish hotspots," Alberta Wildfire said.

"Firefighters will begin actioning the fire when safe zones are completed and are ready to access."

Additional resources have been deployed to the scene.

The fire was caused by lightning. 

Cattail Lake complex

The other area of concern for Alberta Wildfire is the Cattail Lake complex northeast of Fort McMurray.

MWF047 is the largest fire in the complex and was approximately 28,000 hectares in size on Thursday afternoon.

Alberta Wildfire says there are about 225 people fighting the fire, as well as 18 helicopters and 16 pieces of heavy equipment.

More resources are expected to arrive in the coming days.

"Since winds appear to be favourable for crews to continue work on the south and west perimeter of the wildfire, we are hoping to make good progress on the wildfire today," Alberta Wildfire said. "However, if winds shift, we have plans in place to remove crews if it were to become unsafe."

Fire ban in forest protection area

The province announced a fire ban for the entire forest protection area will take effect at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.

Hot, dry conditions have led to the start of 137 new wildfires since July 1 and increased danger throughout the province.

"Alberta has been experiencing difficult conditions in recent days, and the risk of new wildfire starts is extremely high throughout the province," Todd Loewen, minister of forestry and parks said in a news release.

Under the ban, all outdoor wood fires, including those on private land, are prohibited.

Fireworks and charcoal briquette barbeques are also not allowed.

Propane and natural gas-powered appliances and indoor fireplaces are still permitted.

Municipalities are exempt from the ban, as are federal lands such as national parks, but residents should check to see if a local ban is in place. 

Air quality concerns

Both the Semo and Cattail Lake complexes are causing air quality concerns in the northern part of the province.

Air quality for Fort McMurray was listed as 10+ or high on the Environment and Climate Change Canada air quality health index for Wednesday.

A noticeable improvement is expected heading into Thursday as air quality goes from a moderate to high health risk to a low to moderate health risk.

People most affected by wildlife smoke are seniors, pregnant women, infants and children, those who work outdoors and people with an existing illness or chronic health concerns.

It is best to limit time outdoors and strenuous outdoor activities, even for the healthy population during periods of smoke.

As far as air quality for the city of Edmonton, the wildfire smoke should stay out of the region. The air quality forecast looks to be good for Wednesday and Thursday, and is projected to be a low health risk.