Evacuation order issued for Edson, parts of Yellowhead County due to wildfire

Smoky skies in Edson, Alta., on the evening of June 9, 2023, just before an evacuation order was issued for the town. (Submitted by Nicki Frison - image credit)
Smoky skies in Edson, Alta., on the evening of June 9, 2023, just before an evacuation order was issued for the town. (Submitted by Nicki Frison - image credit)

An evacuation order has been issued for the Town of Edson and some regions of Yellowhead County, west of Edmonton due to wildfire danger.

It's the second time Edson residents have been forced to flee their homes in the last month.

The town was evacuated May 5 because of an encroaching wildfire, but residents were allowed to return on May 8. Other parts of Yellowhead County also had to evacuate in May, but by the end of the month, everyone had been allowed to return.

An emergency alert issued just before 6:30 p.m. Friday said fires are "becoming increasingly unpredictable" and have jumped fire guards, moving closer to populated areas.

Just after 8 p.m. Friday, another evacuation order was issued for part of the Municipal District of Greenview, a community of more than 5,500 residents. The municipality is being threatened by a different fire near the Sweathouse area about 150 kilometres east of Grande Prairie.

A statement posted to the Yellowhead County Facebook page Friday says fires south of Edson and in the Shiningbank area have shown "extreme behaviour" and that numerous new fires have recently flared up in the area.

About 11,000 people live in Yellowhead County in total, and 8,000 people live in Edson. The town is approximately 200 kilometres west of Edmonton.

As of Saturday morning, 511 Alberta notes that Highway 16 from Marlboro to the junction of Highway 32 is closed due to the wildfire.

Edson officials posted on social media Saturday morning that the last opportunity to get a bus out of the community will be available at Marlboro Community Hall from 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and at the Edson and District Leisure Centre from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m.

'You can never let your guard down'

Hayley Waites drove out of Edson with her kids Friday evening alongside what she described as a "massive convoy of people" leaving town.

"I'm overwhelmed," she said.

"When you're panicking to get everything going, you're just thinking about saving yourself. But the moment you drive away, you think, 'What if my home isn't there when I get back?'"

Evacuees are being asked to go to the reception centre at the Edmonton Expo Centre. The evacuation centre was closed last month after evacuation orders were lifted for communities using the resource.

Gerry Clarke, emergency support response team co-ordinator at the City of Edmonton, said crews were preparing to re-open the reception centre hours ahead of the evacuation order. Before evacuees arrived Friday, workers were setting up a registration area, and getting food and cots ready for an influx of people.

"You can never let your guard down, especially the smaller communities ... A wildfire can change with the wind. It's mother nature at her worst, I guess," Clarke said.

"And you should always be prepared, come summer time, something like this might happen."

Residents urged to heed evacuation orders once issued

The new evacuation expands an existing order that took effect Thursday for people living south of Township Road 560 on East Bank Road and west to the McLeod River.

At approximately 11 p.m., Edson officials reported seeing live embers and fire in Willmore Park, with the fire having crossed the McLeod River.

An evacuation alert remains for the entire municipality of Yellowhead County — in areas where an evacuation order isn't currently in effect — meaning residents must be prepared to leave quickly.

In a video update posted to social media, officials from Yellowhead County and Edson urged residents to heed the evacuation orders when they arrive. They said they're worried the fires could potentially cut off highway access.

Yellowhead County Mayor Wade Williams said it's disappointing that evacuations are necessary again.

"We were certainly hoping we wouldn't get back to this point, although we've known for the last few weeks that it could possibly happen," he said.

"With the temperatures as high as they are, the humidity as low as it is, this is just a perfect storm for these fires."

Yellowhead County chief administrative officer Luc Mercier said one fire, officially dubbed Wildfire EWF-031, has been especially dangerous recently.

"Because that fire is so much out of control this afternoon, some of the forestry crews have had to back off that fire. They can't fight it," he said, adding the next 36 hours will be "crucial."

Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara also advised people to look out for each other, with further updates to be expected Saturday.

"I'm hoping and I'm praying that our community will be okay and that structural loss will be to a minimum and overall [for] the health and safety of everyone," he said in a separate social media update just after midnight Saturday.

"Things can be replaced, people cannot."

According to the Alberta Wildfire dashboard, as of Saturday, there are 74 fires burning across the province's forest protection areas, and 25 are out of control.

Alberta declared a state of emergency in May as more than 100 out-of-control wildfires burned across the province. The declaration was lifted last weekend as more fires were contained.

At the time, officials said work to fight fires and help displaced people was still not over, with several months left to go in wildfire season.