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Drones interfere with wildfire operations near Fort McMurray, Saprae Creek Estates under evacuation alert

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NOTE: The evacuation alert was ended Monday night at 8:27 p.m. Crews are still on scene to contain the fire.

An evacuation alert was issued Sunday for the small northern Alberta community of Saprae Creek Estates, southeast of Fort McMurray.

Issued at 3:50 p.m., the Alberta Emergency Alert warned residents of the hamlet that a nearby wildfire could spread toward the community.

Anyone in the area was told to be ready to leave on short notice.

"If you are in Saprae Creek Estates stay alert and follow instructions from emergency responders," the alert read.

A few hours later, RCMP said drones flying near the fire were interfering with firefighting efforts.

Mounties said the drones were grounding helicopters meant to be fighting the fire.

"This behavior is a major public safety concern as helicopters are a key element to combating these fires and keeping them under control," RCMP said in a release. "The public is asked to immediately cease flying drones near forest fire areas and in any area that may be in the flight path of these helicopters."

According to Canadian law, only drone pilots with permission can fly over a forest fire or within 9.3 kilometres of a forest fire. Failure to comply can lead to fines and jail time. 

At 7:15 p.m., the Alberta Wildfire dashboard showed a 30-hectare fire burning out of control southeast of the community, just west of the Christina River.

Saprae Creek Estates is around 25 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray.

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