Evansburg residents return home after latest wildfire evacuation order ends

·3 min read
People were allowed to return to the hamlet of Evansburg, Alta., west of Edmonton, on Wednesday. (Kory Siegers/CBC - image credit)
People were allowed to return to the hamlet of Evansburg, Alta., west of Edmonton, on Wednesday. (Kory Siegers/CBC - image credit)

Sylvia and Tony Barteski are becoming well-versed in heeding emergency alert and leaving their home quickly — maybe a little too well-versed.

They were forced from their home in Evansburg twice in the past two weeks due to the threat of wildfires, and they know with weekend temperatures approaching 30 C, it could happen again.

"But this time, I'm going to be prepared," Sylvia Barteski said Wednesday. "I'm going to put whatever we need in there and just sit tight," she added, pointing to the couple's vehicle.

The couple didn't have much time when they were first told to leave the community, about 120 kilometres west of Edmonton, two weekends ago. At the time, several wildfires threatened the hamlet of about 800 people.

"They told us to, you know, get ready and go," Tony Barteski said. "[Sylvia] just grabbed whatever she could, and we went."

Kory Siegers/CBC
Kory Siegers/CBC

Evansburg is one of several small communities in Yellowhead County that have been through multiple evacuation orders since the wildfires began late last month.

The most recent came last Thursday. But six days later, the Barteskis were glad to come back, happy to find their house still standing, but surprised by how smoky it was.

The smoke struck Susan Gilbert, too, as she made her way home to Evansburg on Wednesday.

"It was already burnin' my eyes as we were coming down the hill," she said. "I didn't expect to see this much smoke."

Gilbert said while she's not worried about herself, she is concerned for the health of her neighbours.

"The people that actually have a hard time breathing, if they decide to come back, it's going to be really hard on them," she said.

Kory Siegers/CBC
Kory Siegers/CBC

Gilbert said she's had to flee from her home six times in her life, and like the Barteskis, she dealt with an evacuation twice in the past two weeks.

"It's never pleasant," she said.

When the first evacuation order came down, Gilbert said she wasn't home, and she didn't have a chance to go back to get anything. The second time, she said she was out again, but she managed to return for five minutes to tend to the meat she had left cooking.

Gilbert knows a third order could come this weekend with the looming heat, and she said this time, she'll be better prepared. She added that at the very least, she's glad to be back for now, if only to have the chance to clean out her fridge.

Questions about election timing

Gilbert has nothing but praise for the people who are dealing with the wildfires directly.

"I commend anybody that was out there in the front lines where the fire actually was," she said. "And even the people that have to put up the blockades and sit in their trucks and keep people away and everything. That's not pleasant for them."

But both she and the Barteskis said they don't think Albertans should have to deal with an election right now.

The province is set to go to the polls May 29, and there's no move yet to postpone the vote.

Kory Siegers/CBC
Kory Siegers/CBC

At a wildfire update Saturday, Premier Danielle Smith said that she doesn't think the wildfires will force a complete delay in the election, but that what happens in some communities will depend on how the situation evolves.

"These are localized matters, and Elections Alberta informed me that they would be making local accommodations," she said.

Gilbert said she thinks voting should be postponed.

"I think people have to have a chance to get home and get settled again before they have to start thinking about an election," she said.

Tony Barteski said he believes people should be able to get back to normal again before voting. His wife couldn't agree more.

"I think people have enough to deal with right now," she said.