Rain and cooler weather are expected to bring some relief to the western Canadian province of Alberta as fire crews battle more than 100 wildfires that have forced nearly 30,000 people from their homes.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith declared a state of emergency in the province at the weekend as a result of the blazes.
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As of Monday morning, 105 fires were still burning, and 27 were classified as out of control, according to the Alberta Wildfire tracker. The agency said a day earlier that nearly 80 firefighters from other provinces had arrived in Alberta to help battle the blazes.
Provincial officials said the weather forecast was favourable for the next few days with small amounts of rain and overcast conditions. But they cautioned that hot and dry conditions were predicted to return.
Close to 80 wildland firefighters arrived yesterday from Quebec and Ontario and are on their way to areas that need them the most. We’re grateful for the support. Thank you! Merci! pic.twitter.com/YvdhRbWf3Q
— Alberta Wildfire (@AlbertaWildfire) May 7, 2023
“People have called this season certainly unprecedented in recent memory because we have so many fires so spread out,” Christie Tucker with Alberta Wildfire said during a news briefing on Sunday. “It’s been an unusual year.”
Alberta, one of the world’s largest oil-producing regions, “has been experiencing a hot, dry spring, and with so much kindling, all it takes is a few sparks to ignite some truly frightening wildfires”, Smith said.
The premier is expected to provide an update on the situation at a news conference later on Monday. She also spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss possible help from the federal government.
“We’re working together to make sure everyone affected gets the assistance they need,” Trudeau tweeted on Monday afternoon.
Many experts have pointed to climate change as a factor that has worsened extreme weather events such as wildfires, heatwaves and tropical storms.
In 2016, forest fires in the Alberta oil sands region disrupted oil production, forced 100,000 residents out of Fort McMurray and pummelled the nation’s economy.
A brutal heatwave in Canada’s westernmost province of British Columbia in 2021 led to hundreds of deaths. The heat also kicked off dozens of wildfires, forcing evacuations and burning entire communities to the ground.
I spoke with Premier @ABDanielleSmith today about Alberta’s wildfire situation. We’re working together to make sure everyone affected gets the assistance they need. The federal government will continue to work with provincial officials, with municipalities, and with Indigenous…
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) May 8, 2023
Back in Alberta, some residents have complained of a lack of information and resources after being forced to flee their homes, local media reported.
“It’s tough, the hurry-up-and-wait game,” Gayle St Denis, who evacuated her home in Lac Ste Anne County in central Alberta, told Canadian broadcaster CBC News.
“But there’s absolutely nothing that you can do except for wait,” St Denis said, adding that she was “disappointed in the lack of coordination in communication and resources”.
Some evacuees are staying with friends or family, like Jerry Greiner, a resident from Dayton Valley, west of the provincial capital of Edmonton.
“We could see the smoke on Friday and there was a pretty strong wind,” the 55-year-old told the AFP news agency, his eyes tearing up as he recounted receiving the order to evacuate that night. It was the first time Greiner has ever had to flee a wildfire.
“We quickly grabbed our bags [and went] to our friends’ house. About 12 people stayed there,” he said.
This three day time lapse shows thick smoke over western Canada as fires rage in Alberta. pic.twitter.com/JRZoqWq33A
— CIRA (@CIRA_CSU) May 8, 2023
Meanwhile, Alberta Emergency Management chief Colin Blair said it was difficult to assess the amount of property losses in some areas due to “ongoing smoke and fire conditions”.
In northern Alberta’s Fox Lake, a massive fire destroyed 20 homes, a store and a police station, and some residents had to be evacuated by boat and helicopter.
Two out-of-control wildfires in neighbouring British Columbia also prompted people to leave their homes with authorities warning that they expect high winds to enlarge the blazes in the coming days.