Highway 16 reopens as hundreds of fire evacuees return to homes west of Edmonton

This image from April 30 shows an out-of-control wildfire burning west of Edmonton. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC - image credit)
This image from April 30 shows an out-of-control wildfire burning west of Edmonton. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC - image credit)

Crews continue to battle wildfires west of Edmonton, but Highway 16 has re-opened and hundreds of residents who were under evacuation orders are now allowed to return to their homes.

Officials lifted an evacuation order for Evansburg, Entwistle and areas of Parkland County located west of Highway 22.

"I'm excited to go home and my dogs will be excited," said Linda Matalski, who loaded up her four dogs and fled her Entwistle home Saturday night.

An evacuation order remains in place for Wildwood where her daughter-in-law lives with her 18-month old granddaughter.

"It sucks," Tamara Matalski said. "I'd like to go home but it is what it is, can't do much about it."

Trevor Wilson/CBC News
Trevor Wilson/CBC News

Evacuations began Saturday as a pair of wildfires grew rapidly amid unseasonably warm temperatures.

Both wildfires continue to burn out of control. One covers around 2,400 hectares, seven kilometres northwest of Evansburg. The second, seven kilometres southeast of Entwistle, has burned 330 hectares.

Parkland County and neighbouring Yellowhead County have declared states of local emergency.

Tuesday ushered in another day of unfavourable conditions with high temperatures and low humidity.

"Those are really good conditions for the fire to gain ground on us," said Brian Cornforth, Parkland County fire chief.

"These are some of the most extreme conditions I've seen in my 39-year career for wildfires and I think this is just something we're going to have to start facing more on a regular basis given the conditions."

Kory Siegers/CBC
Kory Siegers/CBC

Dale Cartwright, 90, was looking forward to returning to the Legion seniors' lodge in Evansburg after two nights away.

He was evacuated to Wildwood Sunday and then forced to leave again Monday when the evacuation order for Wildwood was issued.

"I really don't like travelling around and running back and forth on these buses, which has been a necessity, I realize that," Cartwright said.

Wildfire in the area of Paul First Nation near Wabamun has forced residents to evacuate the community where fire crews remain on site to protect structures.

Roughly 70 residents have been out of their homes since Monday afternoon after gusty winds caused a wildfire to spread in the nearby boreal forest mostly made of spruce trees.

Dennis Paul, an advisor to Paul Band, said crews managed to put fire guards in place overnight to contain the wildfire, which is roughly 260 hectares.

Crews made up of a local emergency team, with support from Parkland County and Enoch Cree and Alexander First Nations, are also situated at strategic places putting out hotspots, Paul said.

Edmonton fire ban

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services issued a fire ban in Edmonton on Tuesday that prohibits open burning, backyard fire pits, fireworks, cooking stoves and barbecues that use fuels such as wood.

As of April 30, Edmonton has seen 185 brush, grass, or wildland fires of varying sizes this year. Six have posed threats to nearby structures, the city said in a news release.

"The wind can really accelerate the spread of a fire, and obviously with the dry conditions that we're experiencing right now you bring those two factors together and then you can see the consequence of those things coming together," acting fire chief David Lazenby said at a briefing Tuesday.

"Not the best of bedfellows, and you can see the scale of what results."

With dry and warm weather in the forecast, Lazenby said the ban is expected to remain in place for the rest of the week.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, it's hard to predict how long current conditions will last with a high pressure ridge covering all of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and even into Manitoba and the Northwest Territories.

"We are expecting this ridge to stay in place for the next several days, meaning the hot and dry weather will continue," said meteorologist Terri Lang.

She said rain is unlikely until at least the weekend.