Alberta wildfires growing, over 20,000 ordered to evacuate

Wildfires in Alberta are getting worse as much of the northern part of the province remains dry.

On Friday, the province provided an update on wildfires, saying as of 10:30 a.m. there are 78 active fires.

To date in 2023, there have been 348 wildfires.

The provincial government says of all the fires, three are being prioritized; Fox Lake “HWF-030”, Rainbow Lake “HWF-036,” and Evansburg “WCU-002”.

All three of those fires are listed as out of control.

“This is a rapidly changing situation,” said Christie Tucker with Alberta Wildfire, noting more heat and extremely strong winds were expected later Friday, particularly in the north.

As a result, a local State of Emergency has been issued for Brazeau County and Drayton Valley.

Fox Lake

On Thursday afternoon, 3,700 people from Fox Lake, Brazeau County area, were evacuated.

Three fires are burning in the area of Fox Lake and a reception centre for evacuees has opened at the Fox Lake band office.

The main fire — “HWF-030″ — is a 4,400-hectare wildfire. The Alberta government says the wildfire has destroyed 20 homes, an RCMP detachment, and a store in a northern community.

In a video posted to Facebook on Thursday night, the chief of Little Red River Cree Nation said he believed everyone got out of the remote community about 550 kilometres north of Edmonton.

Residents were taken out by boats and a barge.

Tucker says the province assisted with the evacuation of 115 people by helicopter from Fox Lake.

RCMP spokesperson Troy Savinkoff said that in addition to losing the Fox Lake detachment and compound, including a residence, two homes that also housed officers were damaged.

He said RCMP successfully removed all firearms and exhibits from the detachment and members’ families and pets got out safely. Mounties, including officers from other detachments, remain in the community.

“We’ll have to determine ways to work remotely,” Savinkoff said. “And then we’ll work with the community and government to try to come up with temporary arrangements and then some more permanent arrangements down the line.”

Tucker said 36 firefighters, three helicopters, air tankers and heavy equipment are working on the Fox Lake fire.

Drayton Valley

The province added in the Drayton Valley area, an out-of-control 1,500-hectare wildfire has caused thousands of people to flee.

An evacuation order was issued Thursday night instructing more than 7,000 residents to leave the town about 140 kilometres west of Edmonton.

Tucker said 26 firefighters, three helicopters and air tankers are working on that fire.

Tyson Pietsch, president of the Drayton Valley Pro Rodeo, said his crew was able to herd more than 100 horses and cattle into trailers to be moved out of the area as the wildfire caused the rodeo to shut down.

“Literally the ash was falling on us while we were loading out rodeo stock,” said Pietsch, adding all animals and crew members are safe.

Pietsch said it took him nearly three hours to drive to his home in Buck Lake, which should normally take 35 minutes.

“It was manic.”

Rainbow Lake

Residents in Rainbow Lake were also under an evacuation notice but not required to evacuate. Tucker said a 400-hectare wildfire was moving away from that town but remained a “significant priority.”

Awesome Pawsome ranch just outside of Spruce Grove near Edmonton was offering five days of free boarding for the pets of wildfire evacuees. During the Fort McMurray fires in 2016, business owner Shanin Neff said the ranch was completely full.

“We have definitely been through this before with Fort McMurray, so we’re we’re getting prepared today,” said Neff. “We all got up at five o’clock this morning to hear the news and we’ve been going ever since.”



According to the province, over 13,000 people have been evacuated across Alberta.

Those evacuees will be heading to Edmonton. The City, along with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, have set up the Edmonton Expo Centre as a Reception Centre.

Edmonton Expo Centre set up for wildfire evacuees. (Photo Credit: City of Edmonton)

“Even if evacuees do not require accommodation and other services, it is recommended that they register their contact information to receive future updates and information on available services,” the City of Edmonton said in a statement.

Evacuees will be able to get a temporary place to stay, food, clothing, animal care, and health care.

“Edmonton is proud to support our regional neighbours in dealing with these wildfires,” said City Manager Andre Corbould. “We will continue to support this co-ordinated response.”

Beds set up at the Edmonton Expo Centre for wildfire evacuees. (Photo Credit: City of Edmonton)

The communities of John D’Or Prairie, High Level and the Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement are supporting evacuees.

The Edmonton Fire Rescue Services is providing support to Parkland County. In addition, the province has confirmed additional firefighters are being sent from Ontario and Quebec.

Provincial response

Friday afternoon, the Office of the Premier activated the province’s Emergency Management Cabinet Committee.

“To date, the Premier and the minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services, who serves as vice-chair of the committee, have been briefed by department officials on the state of the situation. Department officials will also provide daily technical briefings to the media and the public as Alberta’s government continues to respond to the evolving situation,” said the Office of the Premier in a statement.

“Cabinet continues to be kept up to date on the wildfire situation – as is the leader of the Opposition per the Premier’s request. Cabinet continues to have decision-making abilities to deal with emergency decisions,” the statement continued.

“This is a very serious ongoing situation, and Alberta’s government will continue to monitor and provide Albertans with the most up-to-date information.”

Most of central Alberta is under a fire ban after a period of windy and unseasonably hot conditions.

“Albertans are encouraged to download the Alberta Emergency Alert mobile app, which immediately pushes all emergency alerts out to subscribers. For up-to-the-minute Alberta Emergency Alert information, visit Alberta Emergency Alert.”

-With files from the Canadian Press

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