Evacuation orders lifted for Nordegg, Alta., as crews continue to fight wildfires

A wildfire burning northwest of Nordegg, Alta. has prompted an evacuation order for parts of Clearwater County.  (Alberta Wildfire - image credit)
A wildfire burning northwest of Nordegg, Alta. has prompted an evacuation order for parts of Clearwater County. (Alberta Wildfire - image credit)

A wildfire northwest of Nordegg that triggered evacuation orders in parts of west-central Alberta is now classified as being held, according to Alberta Wildfire.

The evacuation order for Nordegg has been lifted in accordance with the change in the fire's status.

However, evacuation orders remain in place for Snow Creek Provincial Recreation Area, Dry Haven Provincial Recreation Area, Centre for Outdoor Education, Fish Lake Provincial Recreation Area, Frontier Lodge and Goldeye Lake Provincial Recreation Area, according to the Alberta Wildfire website.

Helicopter crews are expected to continue bucketing operations on Monday.

Evacuation orders were first issued Wednesday night by Clearwater County, when the fire had already burned an estimated 200 hectares of forest.

The fire 19 kilometres west of the hamlet of Nordegg, where residents were also placed on evacuation alert, is also classified as being held.

Efforts to map the size of the fire had been hampered by heavy smoke, said wildfire information officer Travis Fairweather.

Fire officials will be watching closely to ensure residents and visitors to the area remain safe, Fairweather said.

"We're hoping for maybe a bit of a break in the weather over the next few days," he said. "That should certainly aid with firefighting efforts."

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Evacuees with holiday trailers or campers can relocate to the North Saskatchewan River Park in Rocky Mountain House located at 394024 Range Road 7-3A.

The wildfire was detected July 19. The cause is under investigation.

Fairweather said the fire was initially responding well to firefighting efforts. On Wednesday, conditions changed and flames spread quickly, fuelled by high winds, heat and low humidity.

Ground crews, along with water bombers and helicopters have been dispatched to the fire, Fairweather said. Additional crews are also being called in.

It was hoped that additional crews would make progress in containing the fire Thursday morning before the temperature rose, he said.

A high of 27 C was expected in the area Thursday, with a chance of afternoon showers on Friday.

"Hopefully, we can get in there and can get some of these containment lines into place," he said.

"Any time you see the hot, dry weather that's expected today, that can certainly lead to some some increased fire activity, so hopefully we can get some good work done this morning, which should help aid in our efforts this afternoon."

The winds will also play a factor in the fight, either pushing the fire away or toward the community of Nordegg, Fairweather said.

Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement Thursday for areas near the fire, because it's causing poor air quality and, at times, reduced visibility.

"High concentrations of fine particulate matter near the surface will continue impacting some areas," the statement said.

"Air quality and reduced visibility due to wildfire smoke can fluctuate over short distances and can vary considerably from hour to hour."

'We're pretty concerned'

The scenic area is a popular place for camping, hiking, hunting and fishing, drawing local and international visitors to the area each summer.

At the Coliseum Mountain Resort in the hamlet's north subdivision, Kurt Walbeck has told his guests to be prepared to leave at a moment's notice.

Walbeck, co-owner of the lodge, said it was unnerving to watch the fire grow in the scorching heat, and watch a convoy of vehicles pass by after the evacuation orders came down.

He continues to watch the skies closely as helicopters and water bombers roar overhead.

"We did have the wind pick up considerably and that was blowing the smoke directly in our direction and it so it made it feel like it was a lot closer," he said.

He said the hamlet is a small, tight-knit community and people are pulling together to help evacuees and the effected businesses.

Our livelihoods are all here in the mountains and when a fire comes through, it can end that pretty quickly. -Kurt Walbeck

"We're pretty concerned," he said. "Anytime you get wildfires here, in this country, it's always a concern because it can spread very, very quickly.

"Our livelihoods are all here in the mountains and when a fire comes through, it can end that pretty quickly."

Many businesses in the evacuation alert zone have shut down to to give the workers time to prepare their families for a possible evacuation, he said.

He remains hopeful firefighters will be able to gain the upper hand.

"We're not quite out of the woods yet but the crews have been doing a great job battling it," he said.

"The conditions right now are very warm but very calm and that's good news because that helps them fight that fire."