The fire in northern Alberta. (The Canadian Press)

Wildfire surges in size, forces more people out of their homes in northern Alberta

There have been no homes or business damaged to date around High Level

A wildfire has prompted an eight-hour evacuation alert for a northern Alberta town that saw parts of it destroyed in a 2011 fire.

The alert says Slave Lake is not in imminent danger, but residents should be prepared to evacuate on short notice.

The town is the latest community to be put on evacuation alert, as several fires rage out-of-control in northern Alberta and blanket areas to the south in an acrid haze.

Slave Lake is currently housing many people who were evacuated from High Level more than a week ago.

The Alberta government has also issued an emergency alert for Chipewyan Lake Village, about 450 kilometres north of Edmonton.

People were being asked to leave immediately because of a rapidly moving wildfire that threatens to cut off access to the area.

Different fires have also forced evacuations from the hamlet of Wabasca, the Bigstone Cree Nation and Northern Lights County.

In the High Level area, about 5,000 people have been out of their homes because of a raging fire that won’t stop growing.

It has spread to cover 2,300 square kilometres — up from 1,500 square kilometres on Wednesday — but crews are still managing to keep the flames out of the town.

“The Chuckegg Creek fire experienced extreme fire behaviour yesterday,” said a Thursday morning update. “Continued hot and dry conditions along with variable, gusty winds have proved a challenge to firefighting efforts and safety.”

The update said the fire grew to the south, west and north.

“There have been no homes or business damaged to date around High Level, but the threat remains,” it said.

High Level Mayor Crystal McAteer, Reeve Josh Knelsen of Mackenzie County and Dene Tha’ First Nation Chief James Ahnassay issued a joint statement late Wednesday on Facebook.

“We know that many of you are very anxious to hear about what is happening with the wildfire and the situation in our communities. Many of you have been out of your homes and away from your work for a long time.” they wrote.

The leaders urged patience.

“On Wednesday, the wildfire threatening our communities grew significantly and exhibited extreme and volatile fire behaviour. We simply don’t know for sure what this fire will do next.

“The danger to High Level remains, and the danger to communities in Mackenzie County and the Dene Tha’ First Nation has increased. Four more areas were evacuated … More than 600 of our neighbours had to leave their homes.”

The goal is to get residents of High Level home by the weekend, the post said.

“But with this wildfire we can’t promise anything. For other communities, we know it will be later. Please be patient with us. The situation is constantly changing and there are no firm timelines.”

People in Edmonton awoke Thursday to a thick, smoky haze that turned otherwise blue skies an eerie grey-orange.

Environment Canada issued a special air-quality statement for the Alberta capital, warning that people might experience coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath. Children, seniors, and those with heart and lung disease were said to be at special risk.

READ MORE: Wildfire crews watching for dangerous wind shift in High Level, Alta.

READ MORE: Wildfire smoke and drought conditions in May? Welcome to 2019

The Canadian Press


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