Chuckegg Creek wildfire is burning out of control in the High Level Forest Area, to the southwest and west of the town of High Level on Sunday, May 19 2019

Mayor says northern Alberta town still under threat from nearby wildfire

The blaze has now eaten its way through about 920 square kilometres of forest

The mayor of a northwestern Alberta town says the threat from a powerful wildfire burning three kilometres away has not passed and warns evacuees they could be out longer than expected.

High Level Mayor Crystal McAteer told a news conference Wednesday that firefighting is going well, but everyone is at the mercy of the weather.

“I want to stress the importance to everyone, especially evacuees, that the danger has not passed nor has it diminished,” McAteer said. “We know based on recent experiences of Slave Lake and of Fort McMurray that wildfires are highly unpredictable and can change at any moment.

“I am pleading with everyone to be patient and that the evacuation of High Level will continue into the foreseeable future.”

READ MORE: Growing wildfire prompts evacuation of High Level, Alta.

Nearly 5,000 people cleared out of High Level and nearby First Nations on the long weekend with flames from the out-of-control Chuckegg Creek fire licking at the southern edge of the community, located 750 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

Evacuee Stefanie Brown said she’s more concerned for the safety of those fighting the blaze than she is about the townhouse she left behind.

“If it burns down our stuff, we’ll buy more,” Brown said Wednesday after a 1,300-kilometre drive south to Medicine Hat, Alta., where her mother lives.

The school teacher’s car was gassed up, her devices charged and her bags packed by the time her phone blared Monday with an emergency alert that High Level was being evacuated.

She knew from experience how important it was to be prepared.

Brown had to flee Medicine Hat during massive floods in 2013 and forgot to pack key documents and mementoes from her late father. Luckily, her second-floor condo stayed dry.

“The first time I didn’t listen when they told us to get prepared, and then, when it was time to go, I didn’t even know what to put in my car,” she recalled.

This time, Brown, her two children and two dogs piled into her hatchback to make it to safety.

Authorities handled the evacuation well, she added. “They did it with enough advance notice and time that people didn’t panic.”

Officials said Wednesday they are continuing to prepare the town for any potential shift in winds.

“The High Level area has been experiencing drought-like conditions for quite some time,” said Scott Elliot with Alberta Wildfire. “The fire has been exhibiting extreme behaviour for multiple days and has made control efforts extremely difficult.”

The good news, Elliot said, is the spread has been away from the community due to the winds.

“This has given us an opportunity to put some preparation and control measures in place in order to manage the threat to the town,” he said.

Officials said they’ve been able to protect power poles to the west and the south and also created a fireguard between the fire and the town.

READ MORE: B.C. firefighters being deployed to Northern Alberta

Winds were expected to shift slightly in the coming days and push smoke from the fires south rather than north.

“The forecast, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be giving us a break,” said Elliot. “We are not really getting a big blast of rain that we are going to need.”

If they get a west wind on the fire, he said, it will put the town and other nearby communities at increased risk.

The blaze has now eaten its way through about 920 square kilometres of forest, which is an area bigger than the size of Calgary.

Some 110 firefighters were working to protect structures in High Level and properties in Mackenzie County. Alberta Wildfire had 76 firefighters and 24 helicopters battling the blaze.

Some firefighters from British Columbia were expected later on Wednesday. Others are to arrive later from Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

READ MORE: Is vegan food a human right? Firefighter who fought Williams Lake wildfire says so

— By Colette Derworiz in Edmonton and Lauren Krugel in Calgary

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

District offers safety tips after cougar spotted near Lake Country school

The animal was seen on a walking trail near Peter Greer Elementary Saturday morning

Emergency crews rush youth to hospital after quadding accident in West Kelowna

West Kelowna Fire Rescue’s new off-road vehicle was used in the rescue

Severe thunderstorm watch in effect for Okanagan, Shuswap

Environment Canada is forecasting strong wind gusts, large hail and heavy downpours in parts of the Interior

WorkSafe BC conducted 70 inspections in the Okanagan amid B.C.’s reopening plan

WorkSafe BC has conducted 100 inspections at restaurants across the province since May 19

West Kelowna reopens beach volleyball, new pickleball courts

The City of West Kelowna is asking residents to maintain safe distancing

11 new COVID-19 cases in B.C. as top doc urges caution amid ‘encouraging’ low rates

Dr. Bonnie Henry also announced that two care home outbreaks would be declared over

Surrey mayor’s party under fire for ‘sickening’ tweet accusing northern B.C. RCMP of murder

Mayor Doug McCallum says tweet, Facebook post ‘sent out by unauthorized person’

Partial return to class for Central Okanagan students: COVID-19

School District 23 and the Board of Education have released a letter regarding returning to class

Father’s Day Walk Run for prostate cancer will be virtual event this year throughout B.C.

The annual fundraiser for Prostate Cancer Foundation BC has brought in $2.5 million since 1999

Similkameen winery co-owned by Dr. Bonnie Henry

B.C.’s provincial health officer is part of the original ownership group of Clos du Soleil in Keremeos

Shuswap man reported missing by RCMP has been found unharmed

Salmon Arm resident apologizes for having caused anyone concern

Dr. Bonnie Henry announces official ban on overnight kids’ camps this summer

New ban comes after talking with other provincial health officials across the country, Henry says

Senior man in hospital after unprovoked wolf attack near Prince Rupert

Conservation officers are on site looking for the wolf

VIDEO: NASA astronauts blast off into space on SpaceX rocket

Marks NASA’s first human spaceflight launched from U.S. soil in nearly a decade

Most Read