HIGH LEVEL, Alta. — Fire officials say winds continue to be favourable as crews battle a large wildfire burning a few kilometres from a northern Alberta town.
Nearly 5,000 people have cleared out of High Level and nearby First Nations with flames licking at the southern edge of the community, located about 750 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.
Winds are expected to be out of the southeast for the next several days, pushing the fire away from homes and other buildings.
“The fire is actually burning on the southwest side of High Level headed northwest,” Bruce Mayer, assistant deputy minister of Alberta’s Agriculture and Forestry Department, said Tuesday.
“The forecast for the next few days is the strong gusty winds will be from the southeast to east and northeast, which are all favourable.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the fire is about five kilometres from the town. Official reports said flames were within three kilometres.
Kenney said no buildings have been damaged and the evacuation of the town on Monday went off without incident.
“I’m pleased to say it was a safe, orderly evacuation thanks to the co-operation of residents and first responders.”
Evacuee reception centres have been set up in Slave Lake and High Prairie.
Officials in Slave Lake said about 700 people have so far registered at its reception centre.
“Steady flow of evacuees all night,” Mayor Tyler Warman said Tuesday morning. “People are very calm, very patient.”
Warman said hotel rooms had been booked Monday for those who needed them, but they were running out of rooms later Tuesday.
“We are working with our counterparts in High Prairie right now to see if they can take some overflow,” he said at an afternoon news conference.
Warman, who was a town councillor and firefighter during a 2011 wildfire that destroyed parts of Slave Lake, said he’s happy that the community is able to help its neighbours.
“We gained a ton of experience in 2011,” he said. “We’ve done a ton of extensive training on how to assist other communities.
“Thankfully we’re able to put all that training and all that energy and all those ideas and things we learned to good use.”
Officials were also arranging for pets to be housed in Slave Lake during the evacuation.
Other evacuees were asked to register with the Red Cross. They were told to prepare for three days away from their homes and Kenney said they could be out for as many as five days.
About 20 patients were also moved from the High Level hospital over the long weekend.
The fire is rated at a Level 6, the most intense rating on the scale. That means flames are jumping from treetop to treetop.
The last estimate at noon Tuesday put the blaze at about 800 square kilometres, almost the same size as Calgary. Power had been cut to the town and wasn’t expected to be restored until Tuesday evening.
Almost 90 firefighters were working on the edge of the fire closest to High Level. Heavy-duty sprinkler systems were brought in to keep buildings wet.
Kenney said more firefighters from Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia were expected to be on the ground in Alberta in the next two days as part of national agreements to share firefighting resources.
“We will certainly be proud to return the favour when needed in the future.”
The premier urged residents to be cautious as the fire danger in many parts of the province is considered extreme.
“Unfortunately the dry conditions in northern Alberta are expected to continue for the foreseeable future with the fire danger possibly increasing this week,” he said.
Four other fires are classified as out of control in northern Alberta, including two burning north of Slave Lake.
The province issued a fire ban and restricted off-highway vehicle use for several areas late last week due to forecasts calling for little precipitation and strong winds.
It isn’t the first time wildfires have forced an evacuation of an Alberta community this early in the season.
In May 2016, a massive fire swept into Fort McMurray, destroying thousands of homes and businesses and forcing almost 88,000 people to flee. About 7,000 were evacuated from Slave Lake due to a wildfire in May 2011.
The Canadian Press