Troops moving in as province braces for volatile weekend in fire fight
Alberta wildfire update
Officials from Alberta Emergency Management Agency and Alberta Wildfire provide an update on the province's wildfire situation.
Flames have begun to retreat from one of nine First Nations communities under threat from wildfires burning across Alberta.
A massive fire threatening Fox Lake is now moving east, away from the remote northern community, said Conroy Sewepagaham, chief of the Little Red River Cree Nation, in a update Wednesday.
Sewepagaham said he remains hopeful that if the weather holds, his community will be spared further damage. More than 100 structures in Fox Lake have already been destroyed, Indigenous Services Canada has confirmed.
"The fire is no longer a big threat to the community," Sewepagaham said in a video posted to Facebook. "That's one good thing."
Communities across the province are bracing for the wildfire danger to escalate. After a few days of relative calm, the return of hot, dry weather this weekend threatens to make conditions more volatile.
Environment Canada issued a special weather statement Thursday morning, warning of "unseasonably hot, dry conditions" beginning this weekend. Daytime highs are expected to climb into the 30s, about 10 to 15 degrees C above seasonal norms.
As of Thursday morning, 82 wildfires continue to burn across the province, 23 of them out of control. To date this year, 421 wildfires have burned 410,000 hectares — about double the average area burned in an entire season.
Military aid arrives
Canadian Armed Forces soldiers will soon be on the move across the province — by road and air — to assist firefighters on the front lines.
Troops from 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and 1 Combat Engineer Regiment are moving out to establish bases of operations in Grande Prairie, Fox Creek and Drayton Valley, the provincial government said Thursday.
Army reserve soldiers from across Alberta are also deploying this week.
Troops will support firefighting efforts, aid with community evacuations and lend engineering support through the use of heavy equipment.
Emergency officials will deliver an update on Alberta's wildfire response at 3 p.m. MT. Watch the news conference here.
The Paskwa fire at Fox Lake, 150 kilometres east of High Level, is among the fires currently defying suppression efforts.
Since it was detected on May 2, the fire has consumed more than 24,000 hectares.
Firefighters are working to tame hot spots but the forecast is not encouraging, Sewepagaham said.
"The next coming days for our local climate, temperature-wise, is not going to be really good for us on the ground, so we might see some growth on that fire that is moving away from the community."
Little Red River Cree Nation is made up of three communities — Fox Lake, Garden River and John D'Or Prairie. Indigenous Services Canada is helping set up temporary housing in John D'Or Prairie for 500 people, including a commercial kitchen and other amenities.
Sewepagaham said fire breaks are being established, and night watchmen have been stationed throughout the valley of the Peace River to sound the alarm if flames take a dangerous turn.
He said it's unclear when residents can safely return home. The damage is extensive and smoke persists in the air.
Albertans scramble to defend their homes from wildfires
Alberta residents scramble to defend their properties from wildfires, and some say there's been a lack of help from the province.
Alberta declared a state of emergency on Saturday as fast-moving wildfires ignited across the province and evacuation orders spread. Indigenous communities have been among the hardest hit.
In Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation, 45 structures, including homes and the community's elder centre, have been destroyed. Around 1,600 people from the community have been evacuated to nearby Grande Prairie and Valleyview, and also to Edmonton.
At least 14 homes were lost in the East Prairie Métis Settlement, around 165 kilometres east of Grande Prairie, when a fire ripped through the community last week, forcing 300 people to flee.
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Across Alberta, around 18,000 people remain displaced. And while thousands wait for the threat to pass, some residents are being allowed to return home.
In Yellowhead County, west of Edmonton, evacuation orders were lifted on Thursday morning for the communities of Wildwood, Hansonville and Lobstick Resort.
County Mayor Wade Williams said he supports the re-entry plan but with firefighting resources stretched thin, he's concerned about the possibility of another evacuation.
One fire is burning less than two kilometres from Wildwood, Williams said.
"If people choose to stay and things go sideways, we may not be able to get back in there to protect them," Williams told evacuees during a town hall Wednesday.
The fire near Wildwood, still out of control, now covers an estimated7,254 hectares. Another fire nearby is burning on both sides of Highway 22, north of Highway 16. It has now destroyed 2,400 hectares and continues to burn out of control.
"We need to live with the fires, they're here, we don't want to keep you away," Luc Mercier, chief administration officer for Yellowhead County, said Wednesday.
"We are balancing your right to your property, to the extent that we can, with our responsibility as a municipality in a state of local emergency to protect your safety."
The province announced on Thursday that it has committed to a matching program with the federal government to support the wildfire response.
Alberta and Ottawa will each match every dollar donated to the Canadian Red Cross 2023 Alberta Fires Appeal fund. The funds will support a range of emergency services needed during the ongoing community evacuations and future recovery efforts, the province said.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With files from Julia Wong
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