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'This fight is going to be a tough one': Evacuations double overnight in northern Alberta
The wildfire situation worsened overnight in northern Alberta, doubling the amount of evacuees to over 10,000.
There are currently 28 active wildfires burning in the province—nine of which are currently out of control.
“This fight is going to be a tough one,” Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen said at the Alberta legislature Thursday afternoon. “The weather is not cooperating for the long distance forecast for the next two weeks. It’s more of the same—hot, dry and windy conditions.”
There are currently mandatory evacuations in effect for:
- Town of High Level and Mackenzie County areas south and southeast of town
- Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement
- Hamlet of Marten Beach
- Wabasca, the Bigstone Cree Nation and Chipewyan Lake Village
- Keg River, Carcajou and residents living in the northern border of the County of Northern Lights
- Bushe River, Meander River and Chateh
- Sandy Lake
“The smoke impacts have created a significant increase in evacuees,” Dreeshen said. “We began yesterday with approximately 5,500 evacuees. We currently have over 10,000.”
The evacuation alert caught some residents in Wabasca by surprise.
“It's very devastating because I wasn't expecting it,” Nola Auger said. “We were told to be prepared. I didn't think I was going to be evacuated that fast.”
“People get a little eerie, get on edge, but it’s calming down now,” Slave Lake resident Allan MacDonald told CTV News. “It’s not overly close; it’s not the way it was eight years ago … we know it’s coming now. We got a good evacuation plan in place.”
Wildfires grew overnight
“Because of the ongoing dry conditions in Alberta, the very low relative humidity, we saw fires move very quickly, even at night when they wouldn’t traditionally be moving so quickly,” Alberta Wildfire Information Unit Lead Christie Tucker said.
The Chuckegg Creek fire moved 23 metres per minute, according to Tucker.
“It’s difficult to get ahead of a fire that is moving that fast.”
The wildfire has burned at least 14 homes in the Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement, according to Paddle Prairie's Facebook page. Another 80 homes northeast of the settlement are in the fire’s path.
“We don’t even know how many homes have been lost,” Paddle Prairie resident Lori Wanuch said. “They said it’s too smoky to go in the helicopter right now to go check.”
Surveyors left Paddle Prairie for the day because the smoke is too thick, said Blake Desjarlais, the director of public and national affairs for the Metis Settlements General Council.
The plan remains to have residents return to High Level this weekend, but that could change based on weather conditions.