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

Chemainus Secondary athletics honour roll

Many standout individuals and team members during the 2019-20 school year

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

In the spirit of giving

Chemainus grads donate fundraising proceeds to community groups

‘Someone knows something’: a look into Vancouver Island missing persons with interactive map

There are more than three dozen people listed as missing throughout Vancouver Island

Historical moment

On The Waterfront

B.C. records 62 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths since Friday

Province has just over 200 active cases

Canadians torn on scaling back COVID-19 benefits to save money: poll

Of those surveyed, 78 per cent said they were worried about the size of the deficit

Port Alberni will have a salmon derby on Labour Day after all

Alberni Valley Tyee Club reveals ‘socially distanced’ derby only for Labour Day 2020

‘Trauma equals addiction’ – why some seek solace in illicit substances

Part 2: Many pushed into addiction by ‘toxic stress,’ says White Rock psychologist

Hotel rooms for B.C. homeless too hasty, NDP government told

Businesses forced out, but crime goes down, minister says

Suspicious fire quenched before reaching gunpowder in Nanaimo’s historic Bastion

Probe underway in basement blaze that erupted near where powder stored to fire signature cannons

Duncan model makes quarter finals in ‘Maxim’ magazine contest

Brandee Peart among top one per cent left in competition

Wage subsidy will be extended until December amid post-COVID reopening: Trudeau

Trudeau said the extension will ‘give greater certainty and support to businesses’

B.C. government prepares for COVID-19 economic recovery efforts

New measures after July consultation, Carole James says

Most Read