Wildfires west of Edmonton continue to threaten rural homes, hamlets

This wildfire is expected to change directions and move south toward the hamlet Wildwood, Alta., on Monday. Yellowhead County has told residents of Wildwood to evacuate their homes. (Submitted by Alexa Jordan - image credit)
This wildfire is expected to change directions and move south toward the hamlet Wildwood, Alta., on Monday. Yellowhead County has told residents of Wildwood to evacuate their homes. (Submitted by Alexa Jordan - image credit)

Wildfires, fuelled by tinder-dry conditions and powerful winds, continue to threaten communities west of Edmonton, forcing of hundreds of people from their homes.

Mandatory evacuation orders remain in place for parts of Parkland County and Yellowhead County as wildfires put rural homes, farms and businesses under threat.

Around 1 p.m. Monday, Yellowhead County posted on Facebook that residents of Wildwood, 115 kilometres west of Edmonton, should evacuate immediately.

A reception centre is set up for evacuees at the Edson and District Leisure Centre.

As of Monday morning, the hamlets of Entwistle and Evansburg — neighbouring communities about 100 kilometres west of Edmonton — remain under evacuation as separate fires are fuelled by high winds, heat and low humidity.

"The conditions we're looking at today for example, we're somewhere between 10 and 15 degrees above the seasonal norm in Edmonton," Derrick Forsythe, an information officer with Alberta Wildfire, said in an interview Monday.

"When you have those warmer temperatures and the winds that we're seeing, it's a really good environment for fires to get up, get started, and get rolling."

Forsythe said there isn't a lot of rain in the forecast in the coming days, so if conditions don't change, it will remain challenging to get the fires under control.

The evacuation orders began Saturday as a pair of wildfires grew rapidly amid unseasonably warm temperatures. RCMP officers spent the weekend knocking on doors and telling residents to leave as air tankers began moving across smoke-filled skies.

Both wildfires continue to burn out of control.

One covers around 2,200 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.

In Parkland County, people living west of Range Road 65 to the Pembina River, north of Township Road 530 to Highway 16, including all residents of Entwistle, must leave as soon as possible. The hamlet is home to about 800 people.

There are two reception centres for evacuees, who must must register either in person at the Wildwood community hall or Wabamun Jubilee Hall, or by calling 780-203-3258.

In Yellowhead County, a mandatory evacuation order remains in effect in the hamlet of  Evansburg and the area directly south of the hamlet located north of Highway 16.

Highway 16 remains closed in the area near the fires. Highway 22 south of 16 to Township Road 530 also remains closed.

Evansburg evacuees should register at the Wildwood Hall or by calling the Yellowhead County Emergency Information line at 1-833-334-4630.

Around 3 a.m. Sunday, Yellowhead County expanded its evacuation alert.

All residents in the Lobstick Resort community and areas north of Wildwood were issued mandatory evacuation orders. The expanded evacuation area includes properties from the east end of Chip Lake.

The county said Monday it expects around 800 people to have evacuated from their homes.

The critical alerts advise people to collect important documents, medications, and enough food and water to be away for at least three days.

The largest of the two fires, northwest of Evansburg on both sides of Highway 22, was detected on Friday evening.

It was originally was two separate incidents — one on the east side of Highway 22 and a second on the west side of the highway. But as the flames moved toward the highway, the fire merged into one.

As of Monday, two properties and some outbuildings had been destroyed.

Yellowhead County is working with Alberta Wildfire to contain the spread of the fires. As of Monday, 75 firefighters were working on the fire, along with 13 pieces of heavy equipment and six helicopters.

More helicopters, with bucket capability, will be available if requested, as will air tankers, Alberta Wildfire said.

The area burning includes a mixture of grass, shrub, trees and marsh. Strong winds, warm temperatures, and very dry fuel are contributing to its rapid spread.