NEWS

Alberta wildfire near Wabasca forces 2,000 people from homes

05/25/2015 09:40 EDT | Updated 05/25/2016 05:59 EDT
About 2,000 people have been evacuated from the path of a wildfire that has prompted the northern Alberta hamlet of Wabasca to declare a local state of emergency.

With the situation worsening day by day, even hour by hour, Alberta is now under a provincewide fire ban.

Hot, dry weather has elevated the fire hazard to high, very high or extreme over most of the province.

There are 29 fires currently burning, with six considered out of control, said fire information officer Geoff Driscoll.

More than 1,300 firefighters and approximately 100 aircraft are battling wildfires. Ontario and Quebec have sent additional resources to help out.

"Right now, our firefighters are starting to reach capacity," Driscoll said. "And we haven't even seen any lightning fires yet."

Lightning in forecast

Given weather forecasts, officials expect to see fires ignited by lightning over the next couple of days, he said.

A fire near North Wabasca Lake forced people from their homes over the weekend. Crews thought they had the fire contained on Sunday morning, Driscoll said.

"The fire challenged the fire guard and went right through it, and started burning toward the hamlet of Wabasca."

That fire has burned almost 200 hectares. Officials say it is currently spreading south and is now about two kilometres from the Big Stone Cree First Nation.

Crews are using aircraft and heavy equipment to try to slow the spread, but officials say weather conditions are making that more difficult.

Over the weekend, another fire forced Cenovus Energy to evacuate 1,800 workers from the company's Foster Creek oilsands project. The company also temporarily shut down production at one of its natural gas operations.

That forest fire, about 25 kilometres south of Foster Creek, is burning on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range. It has burned about 8,000 hectares, Driscoll said.

"It's grown since Friday to that size," he said

Cenovus said it decided to send staff home because the fire threatened the only access road.

Company officials said operations will resume once the fire is under control and it's safe for staff to return.

Crews are also battling a small wildfire 22 kilometres southeast of Slave Lake that has burned 20 hectares.

Provincewide fire ban

Since April 1, 629 wildfires have burned a total of 13,098 hectares in Alberta.

The new ban, put in place at noon Monday, prohibits all open fires, including campfires in campgrounds or backcountry areas, and includes charcoal briquettes. The new fire ban applies to the province's forest protection area. 

Portable propane fire pits and gas or propane stoves and barbecues are allowed.

All fire permits are suspended or cancelled and no new fire permits will be issued.

Check Albertafirebans.ca daily for detailed information about restrictions and locations.

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