Massive wildfire jumps fireguard, approaches small northern Alberta community

A massive wildfire in northern Alberta grew significantly overnight and breached a fireguard, threatening a small remote community.

Officials warn the out-of-control Wood Buffalo Complex is more than 450,000 hectares in size and approaching the community of Fort Fitzgerald.

The flames were 3.5 kilometres from homes as of Wednesday afternoon – 2.5 kilometres closer than Tuesday.

The wildfire breached the most southerly “dozer” guard, an area of land plowed by bulldozers to eliminate “fuel” – trees and vegetation – to control the spread of wildfires.

Bulldozers were working Wednesday to strengthen the perimeter of the fire to “re-establish protection from the south,” according to Alberta Wildfire’s latest update.

Two pumper truck were stationed in Fort Fitzgerald should the blaze reach the town. Structural protection sprinklers were turned on Monday and Tuesday.

Helicopter working to contain the Wood Buffalo Complex wildfire in northern Alberta in August 2023. (Courtesy: Alberta Wildfire)

Wind was coming from the north Wednesday but the direction was expected to change – to coming from the southeast – into the night.

Less than a dozen people live in the remote Alberta town on the edge of the border with the Northwest Territories.

The RM of Wood Buffalo declared a state of local emergency and issued an evacuation order for Fort Fitzgerald Aug. 12.

The Wood Buffalo Complex wildfire was about four kilometres south of Fort Smith, N.W.T., as of Wednesday afternoon.

Alberta Wildfire says there are 308 personnel, 57 pieces of heavy equipment and 24 helicopters actively working on the Wood Buffalo Complex blaze.

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