Thousands of residents evacuated in northern Alberta county due to fire threat

More than 700 evacuees from the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement have been told they can go home starting Thursday afternoon. The news comes as thousands of people in nearby Mackenzie County in northern Alberta are being evacuated from their homes in face of aggressive and growing wildfires. 

The province announced Wednesday that  the evacuation order for Paddle Prairie will be lifted Thursday at 1 p.m. 

"All residents are requested to register their return with the settlement administration," a letter sent out to evacuees said. 

Meanwhile, about an hour east of Paddle Prairie, more than 9,000 evacuees are still out of their homes, based upon a new set of evacuation orders that were issued around 11 p.m. on Monday. Residents who are north of highway 697 and west of Steep Hill Creek were also ordered to evacuate Wednesday afternoon. 

Evacuees from La Crete and nearby communities are being told to register at the Fort Vermilion Mackenzie County Office.

"A lot of people are going to friends and family in non-evacuated areas," said Josh Knelsen, county reeve. 

Knelsen said about 120 people are staying at the reception centre in Fort Vermilion. Others have gone to High Level, Slave Lake, Grande Prairie and surrounding areas, he said. 

Facebook: Jake Fehr

"We're praying for rain out here," said Knelsen. "It's kind of sad when something like this becomes part of your reality and part of your daily life." 

On Tuesday, the province said the Chuckegg Creek fire, now 325,000 hectares in size, is approximately six kilometres south of Devil Lake, which is about an hour's drive from La Crete.

The evacuations come as parts of west-central Alberta were under a rainfall warning Wednesday.

'Uncertainty of not knowing'

Larry Neufeld, manager at La Crete and Area Chamber of Commerce, was heading to Edmonton Wednesday morning with his wife and three kids after evacuating Buffalo Head Prairie.

Neufeld is trying to keep the community calm by posting regular updates, including weather forecasts and messages from Alberta Wildfire, on the chamber's Facebook page, he said. 

"It helps people not panic; they have the facts and then they can deal with it. The uncertainty of not knowing has caused a lot of panic, frustration, confusion, lack of trust," he said.

Facebook: Jake Fehr

Jake Fehr, a pilot and La Crete resident, has also been posting photos and videos of the wildfire. 

"The town has been evacuated and people have left, and all they're thinking is their house probably burned down by now," Fehr said. 

"I feel I just need to let the people know that all is well. I don't want to undermine the [work of] emergency people, but a picture is worth a thousand words," Fehr said. 

"Everything will be alright," he said. "This is normal living in this part of the world.

"I love living up here, I don't want to be anywhere else in the world."