Alberta wildfire evacuees away for 7 days total now eligible for emergency payments

·4 min read
The Alberta government announced Monday that it would provide emergency payments for evacuees. Eligible adults will receive $1,250, plus $500 for each child under 18. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The Alberta government announced Monday that it would provide emergency payments for evacuees. Eligible adults will receive $1,250, plus $500 for each child under 18. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Alberta government has clarified the eligibility requirements for wildfire emergency payments, making money accessible to more wildfire evacuees.

Initially, the government indicated evacuees could apply for money if they were away from home for seven consecutive days.

But Colin Blair, executive director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, acknowledged the mistake Tuesday afternoon, announcing that people who have been evacuated for at least seven days total can claim the money.

"If residents were evacuated, then told to return to their homes, and then were re-evacuated, they are eligible," Blair said during a wildfire update.

The provincial government is updating its online content to reflect the change in policy.

People who have had to evacuate from First Nations or Métis settlements are also eligible for emergency money, and the provincial government has informed the federal government of that, Premier Danielle Smith said at a news conference Tuesday morning.

Charge cards will be made available for people who do not have bank accounts, Smith added.

The emergency funds are one-time payments. Adults will receive $1,250 and an extra $500 per child younger than 18 in their care.

Submitted by Alexcene Hardy
Submitted by Alexcene Hardy

The initial policy announced Monday, however, excluded people from communities that have had multiple evacuation orders, such as Wildwood, Evansburg and Entwistle. Many of those evacuees have been away from home for a week or more, although not consecutively.

Alexcene Hardy described Tuesday's news as "complete relief."

"I'm glad that they listened to us," said Hardy, who lives in Wildwood, Alta., a hamlet about 140 kilometres west of Edmonton in Yellowhead County.

"We were told it was safe and then less than 24 hours [later], we were told that we had to leave again. So this wasn't our decision. We didn't decide to just pack up and go back home because we were tired of not being at home."

Hardy and her family initially fled Wildwood on April 29, she said. They returned home a few days later, when the evacuation order was downgraded, but had to leave again shortly afterward.

Submitted by Alexcene Hardy
Submitted by Alexcene Hardy

The family of five, including an 11-month-old baby, has spent the days since living in their camper on a friend's farm, she said.

Hardy hasn't been able to travel to Wildwood for work, fearing the fire could cross the highway and cut her off from her family, but she said the family's financial situation has been able to sustain that.

Some of her neighbours, however, couldn't afford to evacuate, she said. Others who did leave would need financial assistance after being away for so long.

"This could make or break a lot of families out here," she said.

Government hoping to 'fill any gaps' with payments

Smith said Monday that the Alberta government chose the initial eligibility requirements based on past policies for people fleeing wildfires in 2020, when money was made available to eligible people after seven days.

This time around, there were potential complications regarding the Red Cross, which has helped connect people with hotels and other resources, she explained. The seven days should also give people enough time to contact their insurance companies.

"We wanted to make sure we were able to fill any gaps," Smith said.

Hardy said there is a lingering fear among some evacuees that politics came into play when evacuation orders were downgraded, and that the provincial government directed municipalities to lift evacuation orders to avoid paying out money.

Luc Mercier, chief administrative officer of Yellowhead County, denied that was the case during a fire situation update Tuesday.

The county's prerogative during its initial emergency response is to save lives, then property, he said.

"We did not have the luxury, as we were making decisions on these evacuation zones, on what we had known today," Mercier said.

Yellowhead County Mayor Wade Williams said county officials felt it was safe to allow residents to return the first time — with the caveat that they be prepared to evacuate again within 30 minutes' notice. Once the fire sparked up again, they called another evacuation.

But Williams has received calls from residents saying they were ineligible for benefits because of that decision.

"I can assure you, I was absolutely pissed when I got that news," Williams said.

Williams said he started making calls immediately, including to the provincial government, to seek changes. If, for some reason, residents remained ineligible, he said the county will step up and help.

Evacuees can apply for the emergency funds online at, using an Account.

It may take up to 24 hours for funds to arrive in a person's bank account via e-transfer.

Those who can neither receive an e-transfer nor apply online can call 310-4455 for help and make alternative payment arrangements.

People can apply up to 30 days after their community's evacuation order ends.