2023 May 6
More than 24,511 Albertans have been evacuated from their homes
An out-of-control wildfire near Buck Creek has forced the evacuation of residents in Drayton Valley and Brazeau County late Thursday night on May 4, 2023. PHOTO BY SUPPLIED PHOTO /Brazeau County
As wildfires in northern and central Alberta continue to burn amid unrelenting hot, dry conditions, the province of Alberta has declared a state of emergency to marshal resources in response.
As of 7 p.m. Saturday, Alberta Wildfire lists 110 wildfires burning in the province — 32 out of control while 22 are being held and 56 are under control. Friday night’s latest evacuation orders include parts of Strathcona County and the Town of Edson. At the same time, the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) says more than 24,000 have fled their homes.
Help on the way
Alberta Wildfire saw extreme behaviour from the blazes burning Friday, and while some cool weather is wafting in to provide relief, it hasn’t taken the pressure off firefighters working in central and north-central Alberta, spokeswoman Christie Tucker said, adding that more than 350,000 hectares have already burned this year, and 200 more firefighters are due to arrive in Alberta over the next few days.
“That should tell you it has been extremely challenging day for firefighters here,” she said, pointing to strong winds and hot weather spreading flames over the landscape. “But we are looking forward to a brief reprieve possibly in the next few days as cooler weather comes up through the province. That may give firefighters a chance to catch their breath.”
The declaration comes after UCP leader Danielle Smith convened an emergency management cabinet committee to monitor the situation and receive regular briefs from experts handling the response.
“This is not a step that we took lightly, but it will allow the quickest and most effective response,” Smith said at a Saturday news conference, adding that the move gives Alberta greater powers to mobilize support and access emergency funds.
Earlier Saturday, she said 14 communities had declared a state of local emergency.
The province welcomed additional firefighters Saturday from Ontario and Quebec, as well as air resources that will help douse fires from overhead, Tucker said, adding Alberta will be leveraging relationships across Canada and the U.S. for more support.
Smith said she’s aiming to ring up Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to tap federal resources as well.
“I’m building a list of things that we’ll be able to ask for,” she said. “I’ll take them seriously when they say that they’re prepared to give help, and we certainly want to accept that help.”
RCMP are also working with municipal governments and fire and emergency management agencies to assist with evacuations and community safety. In a separate Saturday news conference, Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said that worsening conditions may warrant a call for out-of-province support.
“Anyone who chooses to ignore evacuation notices is putting not only themselves in danger, but also potentially putting others, including first responders, into harm’s way,” Zablocki said, adding some have tried taking advantage of others during the emergency, and RCMP arrested four people following a break-in at a gas station in Drayton Valley, a town about 130 kilometres southeast of Edmonton.
Fears of looting
Fears of looting made it to Edmonton Friday as residents of Drayton Valley and surrounding Brazeau County were ordered to evacuate Thursday night, many of them still arriving Saturday at the Edmonton EXPO Centre, now serving as a reception site for evacuees.
Lyla Sleno fled the town of about 7,200 Thursday night with her 97-year-old grandmother and seven-year-old son, carrying only a few necessities including pets, clothing and keepsakes.
“All we’ve been hearing about is the looters going through Evansburg when they had evacuated,” Sleno said Friday, adding that despite efforts to keep the family calm, her son was worried about the thieves. “We tried to stay as calm as we could when we evacuated, but you can only hide panic so much.”
Zablocki said he’s only aware of the one break and enter incident.
As of 3 p.m. Saturday, more than 1,000 people from Brazeau County and Drayton Valley had registered at the reception centre, which is offering temporary lodging, food, clothing, health care and animal care for evacuees, the City of Edmonton said in a news release.
On Friday, YMCA of Northern Alberta announced it is offering free facilities access to all evacuees fleeing Alberta wildfires, including four locations in Edmonton and one in Red Deer.
Burst of wildfires in dry heat, relentless winds
Meanwhile, crews continue battling dozens of wildfires across the province as tinder-dry conditions are fanned by swift changing winds and lack of rain.
Fire restrictions and bans have been put in place across much of Alberta, including Edmonton.
Alberta Wildfire said late Saturday that the blaze near Drayton Valley was two kilometres south of the town and about 3,500 hectares in size. The agency is helping Brazeau County battle the flames, with some 26 firefighters, helicopters and air tanker support.
Hospital evacuations in affected communities, such as Drayton Valley, are being handled in a professional and timely fashion under the auspices of Alberta Health Services, AEMA managing director Stephen Lacroix said Saturday.
“It’s being done in a very deliberate way,” he said at a Calgary news conference. “They are staging those evacuations — going from the people most at risk to the people least at risk, and (everyone) in between.”
Strathcona County evacuating
West of Edmonton, Strathcona County also received and evacuation order just after 7 p.m. Friday for everyone in the area south of Township Road 540 and north of Township Road 534; and east of Range Road 221 and west of Range Road 215. It includes Pleasant View and Newton Estates. Crews were battling a large grass fire in the area of Township Road 534 and Range Road 220.
All evacuees are to gather important documents, medication, food and water for people and pets to be away from home for three days. Those living in the Strathcona County evacuation zone can call 780-464-4044 to register. A reception centre is set up at Strathcona County Community Centre in Sherwood Park, 401 Festival Lane. Those who need help evacuating can call 911. Updates are available at www.strathcona.ca.
About an hour earlier, just before 6 p.m., Yellowhead County and the Town of Edson were ordered to evacuate. The western boundary of evacuation zone is Marlboro and Range Road 200 all the way to the east of Yellowhead County. The northern boundary is Township Road 550 and the southern is Township Road 520. That includes the Town of Edson, with a population of about 8,000. Those who need help can call 1-833-334-4630.
A wildfire is burning 14 kilometres southeast of Edson, and Minnow Lake Provincial Recreation Area has been overrun by an out-of-control blaze spanning 77,920 hectares, Alberta Wildfire said Saturday, and firefighters are responding with two dozer groups, helicopters and air tanker support.
Other northern Alberta evacuations
Mandatory evacuation orders are also in effect for:
• The County of Grande Prairie from Township Road 710 to the Wapiti River and Highway 40 to Range Road 72. Evacuees should register at the Bonnets Energy Centre, 10017 99 Ave., Grande Prairie.
• Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation. Everyone in Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation must evacuate and should register at Memorial Hall, 4808 50 St. in Valleyview..
• Fourth Creek area of Saddle Hills County, between Township Road 840 and the Peace River between Range Road 75 and Range Road 85.
• Lac Ste Anne County west of Highway 43, and Range Road 60 west to Highway 757 from Brock Lake in the south to Township Road 564 in the north. Evacuees should register at the Mayerthorpe Diamond Centre at 4184 54 St.
• Athabasca County on Range Road 214 and 215, north of Township Road 674 to the Athabasca River. Evacuees should register at the Athabasca Regional Multiplex.
• East part of Yellowhead County, starting at the Pembina River west to Range Road 101, north border is Township Road 550 and south border is Township Road 520, including Evansburg, Wildwood, Lobstick and Hansonville. Evacuees should register at the Edson Leisure Centre.
• Yellowhead County from Elk River Road in the north, the Brazeau Reservoir in the east, just past Brazeau River in the south and Range Road 145 in the west.
• Leduc County from Range Road 41 east to Range Road 35 and from Township Road 494 north to Township Road 495. Evacuees should register with Leduc County by calling 780-955-4546.
• The Hamlet of Entwistle, west of Range Road 65. Evacuees should register at Wabamun Jubilee Hall at 5132 53 Ave. in Wabamun.
• The entire community of Fox Lake (Little Red River Cree Nation). Evacuees have been asked to go to the Fox Lake Band Office or call 1-888-201-3053.