Hot and dry conditions are expected to continue as wildfires throughout Western Canada have forced evacuations affecting thousands and affected air quality as far east as northern Ontario.
“Prayers are needed for rain,” said Chief Wilfred Hooka-Nooza of Dene Tha First Nation in northwestern Alberta.
Hundreds of people were forced to flee Chateh, a community that is part of the First Nation, earlier this week as a blaze approached.
Hooka-Nooza said the wildfire has now crept within 13 kilometres of the community and workers are using bulldozers to build a fire guard to keep the flames at bay.
“The wind is in our favour at the moment, blowing in a different direction, but it could change,” the chief said.
Roughly 2,500 people are fighting the fires throughout Alberta and 24 of 87 active wildfires were considered out of control as of midday Tuesday.
Wildfires have also been a concern for Alberta’s neighbours, including the Northwest Territories, where the K’atl’odeeche First Nation and town of Hay River, about 120 kilometres from the Alberta boundary, are under evacuation orders.
A convoy of vehicles was allowed to leave a northern Saskatchewan village early Tuesday morning after Buffalo Narrows issued a mandatory evacuation order.
Mayor Sandy Ericson posted on social media that poor air quality due to the smoke and the loss of electricity made it unsafe to stay.
In British Columbia, the city of Fort St. John, about 200 kilometres northwest of Grand Prairie, Alta., also issued an evacuation alert for its roughly 21,000 residents in response to a wildfire that’s more than 130 square kilometres in size.
The British Columbia Wildfire Service hopes calmer winds in the province’s northeast will give it some reprieve to assess the blazes.
An unusual May heat wave has spurred rising wildfire risk across the West. Another 37 heat records were set in B.C. on Monday and 18 were tied or broken in Alberta.
Hooka-Nooza said the heat has been unprecedented and early in the season, which has left the land in his region very dry.
“I have never seen that before way back then, in the years I used to do wildfire fighting,” the chief said.
“I have never seen something this early into the spring.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2023.