Alberta yet to reach peak wildfire burning period, officials say

As of Sunday afternoon, more than 500,000 hectares has burned in Alberta since the start of the year. (Alberta Wildfire - image credit)
As of Sunday afternoon, more than 500,000 hectares has burned in Alberta since the start of the year. (Alberta Wildfire - image credit)

The number of Albertans forced from their homes due to out-of-control wildfires has risen overnight with three new evacuation orders declared in the past 24 hours, fire officials said Sunday afternoon.

More than 19,000 residents have now been ordered to escape the paths of multiple wildfires across central and northern Alberta. That is up from an estimated 16,520 people Saturday but down from last week's peak of about 30,000.

There are 87 active wildfires with 24 being classified as out of control. That does not include the eight wildfires burning outside those zones.

Unrelenting heat and powerful winds have made the fight difficult thus far, officials say.

"The fire danger is extreme again today. As expected, we saw an increase in fire activity yesterday due to the hot and dry conditions. The interior of wildfires can flare up as previously unburned vegetation catches fire," Josee St-Onge, wildfire information officer with the province, said at a briefing on Sunday.

St-Onge cautioned that the worst may be yet to come.

"While some wildfires grew yesterday, overall our firefighters were able to hold their ground but they will be challenged again today," she said.

"Our peak burning period, which is when the temperatures are at their highest and the fuels are at their driest is still in front of us. We are using all of the resources at our disposal to fight these wildfires and keep people in communities safe."

The communities of Rainbow Lake, Leduc County and Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation are the latest placed under evacuation orders, Colin Blair, executive director, Alberta Emergency Management Agency, said Sunday.

"These are trying times. And the coming days may be quite difficult. We are doing all we can to protect communities at risk, but Albertans need to remain vigilant and closely follow updates on their current wildfire situation," Blair said.

Military support arrives

As communities across Alberta begin to receive military support with wildfire recovery efforts, some are hoping the extra help arrives soon.

"I'd love the help," said Raymond Supernault, East Prairie Métis Settlement chairman, in an interview with CBC Sunday morning.

He said 14 homes have been lost and that the extra military support would help members return to the community sooner.

Residents have been forced from their homes and are staying in hotels in High Prairie, Alta., 35 kilometres northwest of the settlement.

The settlement has been relying on crew members from Slave Lake and those who have come in from Ontario to help.

Deployment of 300 members of the Canadian Armed Forces began Saturday. Close to 250 firefighters are also expected to arrive from the U.S. this weekend.

WATCH | This is how the sun and sky look in some wildfire areas: 

While help is being dispersed across the province, a growing number of local government officials are calling for the upcoming provincial election to be postponed. Voters are set to go to the polls May 29.

Wade Williams, mayor of Yellowhead County, said the province's initial response was too slow.

"It took us five days to get a fire ban in this area when it was extremely dry and we were burning up," he said Sunday.

3 Canadian Division Headquarters
3 Canadian Division Headquarters

"In my opinion, what was taking all the time was the fact that these folks are not in legislature doing their jobs at this point in time, which is why I decided to start calling for a postponement and get rid of this distraction so that we can deal with the fires and the emergencies that we have throughout the province."

The bar is high for delaying an election date and can only be requested on a constituency by constituency basis, according to Elections Alberta.

The situation in Drayton Valley remains unsafe for residents says Mayor Nancy Dodds.

"Returning our residents to the community has been our top priority, but unfortunately, we're not there with the weather and southwest winds that are happening over the weekend," Dodds said.

It has been close to two weeks since residents had to flee their homes in that region.

Close to 12,000 people from Drayton Valley and Brazeau County have been evacuated from their homes.

Bart Guyon, reeve for Brazeau County in west-central Alberta, said the situation remains tense for evacuees in his community.

WATCH | Some Alberta wildfires are burning deep underground:

"We're kind of sitting in the belly of the beast here. We've got fires to the north, fires to the east, fires to the south," he said.

As the wildfires continue to burn, Guyon said the patience of people has been tested with some waiting for news on when they can return home.

"It's really stretching the patience of our folks and they're clearly starting to get really upset."

Government of Alberta Fire Service/The Canadian Press
Government of Alberta Fire Service/The Canadian Press

The valley is one of the first communities to receive military support.

Troops are helping dig up pockets of fire still on the ground to prevent embers from starting new fires.

"They're there to do the groundwork right now, and we're very appreciative," Dodds said.

Both Supernault and Dodds also called for the provincial election to be postponed to fully deal with recovery efforts.


Darryel Sowan, with the emergency management team for Little Red River Cree Nation, has been helping co-ordinate the evacuation effort for the community of Fox Lake.

"I went there and was helping to deliver food and you could see the fear and terror in people's eyes and nobody wants to see that," he said.

Little Red River Cree Nation is made up of three communities — Fox Lake, Garden River and John D'Or Prairie.

Indigenous Services Canada is helping set up temporary housing in John D'Or Prairie for 500 people, including a commercial kitchen and other amenities.

Alberta currently has more than 1,500 wildland firefighters, heavy equipment and airtankers responding to wildfires.

The province is working with local authorities in the County of Grande Prairie and the City of Grande Prairie to construct a fireguard around the city.

A fireguard is also being put in place around Little Smoky and along Highway 43.

The guard is a barrier that is created by removing trees and other vegetation – essentially getting rid of the fuel for the fire.

The return of hot, dry weather this weekend threatens to make conditions more volatile with temperatures forecasted to be near 30 C on Sunday.

Use the slider below to see the extent of the fire damage to the area north of Lobstick and west of Wildwood.