Wildfire evacuees near Edmonton can return home Wednesday evening

·3 min read
The fire covers an area of about 181 hectares in the Edson Forest Area and is located nine kilometres west of Evansburg and moving south. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)
The fire covers an area of about 181 hectares in the Edson Forest Area and is located nine kilometres west of Evansburg and moving south. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)

Residents who fled their homes due to an out-of-control wildfire west of Edmonton will be able to return Wednesday evening.

An information alert sent Wednesday just before 6 p.m. stated residents in Yellowhead County's evacuated area may return home starting at 7 p.m., though Highway 16A will remain closed to everyone except for evacuees.

Part of the county was placed under evacuation Tuesday as a wildfire north of Highway 16 moved south, encroaching on homes and farmland.

Around 50 people were forced from their homes, the county said in a statement Wednesday.

Highway 16 reopened Wednesday afternoon though motorists are advised there may be heavy smoke in the area.

The county remains under evacuation alert, a spokesperson for Yellowhead County said.

'A dynamic situation'

The fire continued to burn out of control nine kilometres northwest of Evansburg, north of Highway 16 and west of Highway 22. The wildfire crossed the Lobstick River but had not crossed Highway 16 on Wednesday evening.

The fire was first reported at 4 p.m. Tuesday when it covered just two hectares.

Amid high winds, the fire spread south throughout the day. As of Wednesday morning the fire had burned at least 181 hectares, growing by around 40 hectares overnight.

"We do expect fire activity to pick up today as temperatures rise," Josee St-Onge, a provincial wildfire information officer said in an interview earlier Wednesday.

St-Onge said there were no injuries reported or damage to property but added that the "assessment is ongoing and it's a dynamic situation, so that could change," St-Onge said.

On Wednesday, 32 firefighters, four helicopters and 11 pieces of heavy equipment were working the fire. Six air tankers had also been deployed and were taking water from nearby Chip Lake in an attempt to stifle the "head of the fire," St-Onge said.

Around 30 firefighters with the Yellowhead County were on scene.

The wildfire danger in the area was listed as very high. Daytime temperatures in the region are expected to reach 33 C by the weekend with no rain in the longterm forecast.

"That is going to drive the fire danger in the province to high, very high levels," St-Onge said.

David Bajer/CBC
David Bajer/CBC

The evacuation centre set up at the Evansburg Arena is expected to close at 7 p.m. Wednesday though the Emergency Operations Centre phone line remains open.

John Miller was at his motorhome when a cloud of "big smoke" came into view and a police car pulled up with siren activated.

"The police come up and said, 'You gotta get out of here right now.' He said he's not coming back to give me a second warning so luckily I had my old truck out there, so I fired it up and came to town."

Miller and his wife Phyllis own an RV lot overlooking the Lobstick River, a summer property they have enjoyed for 20 years.

Miller's wife had gone for groceries when the evacuation orders came.

"I just saw the smoke and called hubby and he said, 'We have to go and we have to go now,'" she said.

" [I was] scared, hoping he got out."

The couple met on the shoulder of the highway and spent the night at a hotel.

Miller remains hopeful their property will be spared but said the local landscape is full of muskeg, a natural fuel.

"These underground fires can go into the peat moss and burn for years."

Krista Wiggins fled her home Tuesday as black smoke billowed above the treeline.

"It looked like it was right in my backyard," Wiggins said as she registered at the evacuation centre.

"A little too close for comfort."

Wiggins said she, her husband and young daughter would wait out the fire at a nearby hotel.

"Hopefully they have some good news for us and we can go home," she said.

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