Alberta town threatened by wildfire evacuated successfully, mayor says

A town in northwestern Alberta threatened by an out-of-control wildfire has been safely evacuated of residents, and the provincial government has promised it will step in with additional supports if their displacement lasts more than three days.

More than 4,000 people living in northern Alberta have been ordered to leave their homes because of a dangerous, out-of-control wildfire that is fuelled by dry conditions, hot weather and high winds.

In addition to High Level, a town about 730 kilometres north of Edmonton, the evacuation order also affects about 750 people living at a nearby First Nation, the Bushe River Reserve.

The entire town of High Level, Alta., was successfully evacuated by 9:30 p.m. MT on Monday, the town’s mayor Crystal McAteer said Tuesday morning.

Power feeds are compromised, meaning people could be away from their homes for as long as five days, she said.

More than 650 people have registered at an emergency reception centre set up in Slave Lake, which is almost 500 kilometres to the southeast.

People leaving the areas are urged to depart via Highway 58 east of the communities, since highways south and west have already been closed due to the blaze.

Premier Jason Kenney said that if the evacuees are still displaced from their homes after 72 hours, the province will step in with additional supports.

On Monday, the premier, Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen and Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu met with crews who have been working around the clock at the provincial operations centre.

“It’s fairly typical, of course, to have a number of wildfires, after the snow, the winter runoff is gone and before there is much precipitation,” Kenney said in a video posted Monday night to Facebook.

“There’s no forecast for precipitation, so the risk remains fairly high.”

He thanked residents for responding “in the appropriate way to the need to leave town.”

Alberta crews fighting the blaze will get logistical and personnel support from Ontario, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Those crews are expected to arrive on Wednesday, he said.

Kenney was scheduled to give an update on efforts to fight the wildfire at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Evacuation details

The evacuation centre in Slave Lake can accommodate as many as 1,200 people. The Legacy Centre will be open 24 hours. Town employees said early Tuesday they have enough volunteers to fully staff the facility, and if additional help is needed, a call will be put out on social media.

In addition to the reception centre in Slave Lake, another one has been set up in High Prairie.

Officials have been arranging transportation for residents who can’t get out on their own. Alberta Health Services said it had evacuated 20 patients from the Northwest Health Centre in High Level and relocated them to other communities.

The Chuckegg Creek fire has been burning for several days, but grew substantially starting Sunday, when it covered about 25,000 hectares, to an estimated 69,000 hectares on Monday.

At 4 p.m. Monday when the evacuations of the town were first ordered, the flames were only about three kilometres away.

The order for the Bushe River Reserve, located southeast of the town, was issued at 8 p.m. Monday.

McAteer said residents are remembering wildfires that devastated Fort McMurray and Slave Lake.

“People are of course afraid because they remember the wildfires of Fort McMurray, but we talked to a lot of the residents and reaffirmed that we were being proactive,” she said.

  A 2016 wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alta., destroyed one-tenth of the city and some 88,000 people were forced from their homes. Slave Lake was also evacuated because of a wildfire in 2011 that destroyed parts of the community.

The Alberta government issued a fire ban and restricted off-highway vehicle use for numerous parts of the province late last week due to forecasts that called for little precipitation and strong winds.