Progress made in Alberta wildfire fight, but officials say dangerous days are still ahead

An increasing number of northern Alberta residents forced to flee fast-moving wildfires are learning their homes may not have survived the flames.

'As the fire is still ongoing, there is more and more damage'

Alberta wildfire update

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Officials from Alberta Emergency Management Agency and Alberta Wildfire provide an update on the province's wildfire situation.

An increasing number of northern Alberta residents forced to flee fast-moving wildfires are learning their homes may not have survived the flames.

Four northern Indigenous communities — Sturgeon Lake Cree First Nation, Little Red River Cree Nation, East Prairie Métis Settlement and Little Red River Cree Nation — were reporting the loss of numerous buildings on Tuesday.

At least 40 structures were lost on the Sturgeon Lake First Nation, located 360 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, its chief said in a video posted to social media.

"We're still evaluating the damage," said Chief Sheldon Sunshine, of the Sturgeon Lake Cree First Nation. "As the fire is still ongoing, there is more and more damage that continues to occur."

Around 1,600 people were forced to flee from the community on Friday. It could be up to a month before they are allowed to return home.

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Heavy rain and cooler temperatures Monday provided a temporary reprieve for communities in some parts of the province but little to no precipitation fell in the further reaches of northern Alberta.

The drought-like conditions, powerful winds and a forecasted return to extreme heat are expected to fuel wildfires over the coming days.

As of Tuesday morning, 89 wildfires were burning across Alberta, 24 of which were burning out of control. Around 30,000 people remain displaced from their homes across the province.

'Substantial damage'

Sunshine said no access is being granted to the Sturgeon Lake Cree First Nation community and the band council will be bringing in security to secure the evacuation zone.

The immediate damage to infrastructure is already extensive, he said.

"We want to keep people safe," he said. "There is substantial damage to the power grid. There are power poles in multiple areas that are down. Our water treatment plant went down due to loss of power.

"This is going to take several weeks to sort out.… We're asking our residents to be patient with us as we work on our recovery plan."

The East Prairie Metis Settlement, located about 125 kilometres to the east, lost 14 homes. A bridge in the community was also destroyed, meaning some members may not easily get home even if the evacuation order is lifted.

Brad Desjarlais, a firefighter in the community, said it has been extremely dry in the area, especially the grass.

"It was fast, like really fast," he said about the fire. "It was fast and zig-zaggy."

The reports of damage to homes is even more severe in communities in the far north of the province.

In the Little Red River Cree Nation, homes made up most of the 40-plus structures lost to fire.

About 3,700 residents scrambled to get out of the area after the evacuation order was put in place last week, said Darryel Sowan, the community's emergency management communications co-ordinator.

There is no road into the community, so most people used boats to flee, while others were flown out.

"Because it's isolated, a lot of those people have never even been away from the reserve," Sowan said.

Crews are building up 'layers of defence' against Alberta wildfires, fire chief says

1 hour ago

Duration 1:54

The fire chief in Fox Creek, Alta., has a message for residents: Let crews work as they try to build up defences against dangerous wildfires. The weather is cooler now, Brian Davidson says — but higher temperatures are expected in the days ahead and the risk remains high.

"We want to get them back there and they want to go home. We are trying our best.

In nearby Fox Lake, the province said a 4,400-hectare wildfire destroyed 20 homes, an RCMP detachment, the community's only grocery store store and the water treatment plant.

Both communities are located about 550 kilometres north of Edmonton.

'Waiting to wake up'

While cooler weather has offered a respite, anxiety is still running high over what the sleeping giant will do next.

"I've never seen a fire this big," said Brian Davidson, fire chief of in the town of Fox Creek, about 250 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

"Right now, it's 52 kilometres from tail to end."

Crews were working Tuesday to protect the community from a wildfire burning east of the town, he said.

Residents were to evacuate on Friday. The fire is still classed as out of control, now covering more than 21,000 hectares.

Davidson, who has live in Fox Creek for 43 years, said firefighters are attempting to take advantage of slightly cooler temperatures and relatively calmer winds before the scorching heat returns this weekend.

"We have a two day window to set up defences," he said."It's basically just sitting there, waiting to wake up depending on weather conditions."

Davidson said the desire to return home may be strong for evacuees but the town remains dangerous.

He urged residents to respect evacuation orders.

"I can't sleep well at night knowing that what's lurking out there could turn on us."

Mild weather in Alberta giving crews a chance to fight wildfires

3 hours ago

Duration 4:01

A brief window of wetter and cooler weather is allowing fire crews to tackle the dozens of wildfires burning across Alberta. Nearly 30,000 people are still out of their homes.

Alberta's wildfire season had an intense start, with mandatory evacuation orders issued over the past week to more than a dozen communities across the province.

The flames have closed city roads and breached highways, triggered air quality alerts, and caused power multiple power outages.

Fortis Alberta said around 400 power poles have been damaged or destroyed by fire and crews are working overtime to restore power to communities still in the dark.

The province, which remains in a state of emergency, has asked the federal government for help and requested military assistance to help maintain order and prevent looting in evacuation zones. Meanwhile, firefighting aid has been coming from across the country.

Officials from Alberta Emergency Management Agency and Alberta Wildfire are expected to provide an update on the wildfire situation Tuesday at 3 p.m. MT. You can watch the news conference here.

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