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

Changes made to Eckville’s dry camping policy

There will now be a $10 per night fee to dry camp during events such as the rodeo and jamborees

Sylvan Lakers heading to North American Indigenous Games

A coach and four players will be taking the trip to Halifax, N.S. in July to compete in lacrosse

Sylvan Lake welcomes two new doctors

Dr’s Biana Manchik and Andrew Schwartz are the two new doctors practicing at Sylvan Medical Center

Second catholic elementary school years away for Sylvan Lake

A request has been put in for two portables for École Our Lady of the Rosary’s population growth

Sylvan Lake Wranglers lead series with two overtime wins

The Wranglers are playing the Red Deer Vipers in the division semi-finals of the HJHL

VIDEO: Feds warned agricultural sector near ‘tipping point’ due to blockades

Canadian Federation of Agriculture points to lack of propane and feed due to Coastal GasLink dispute

Province commits long term to 4-H in Alberta

10-year funding commitment will sustain re-structured 4-H organization

Do you talk to your spouse about money? 42% of Canadians don’t, poll suggests

Politics, sex, religion top list of taboo subjects for Canadians

Trudeau revisits blackface embarrassment during Black History Month

Photos and a video of Trudeau wearing makeup to darken his skin surfaced during last fall’s election campaign

Father and two children, from Southern Alberta, killed in fatal crash in B.C.

The single vehicle crash occured near Kamloops on Highway 5A

Teck CEO says Frontier withdrawal a result of tensions over climate, reconciliation

Don Lindsay speaks at mining conference, a day after announcing suspension of oilsands project

Harvey Weinstein found guilty of sex crimes in landmark #MeToo trial

The cases against the Hollywood mogul started the #MeToo movement

CRA puts focus on paper returns as tax-filing season opens

The federal tax collector expects to handle about two million paper returns this calendar year out of roughly 26 million filings

Teck withdraws application for Frontier mine, citing discourse over climate change

The Vancouver-based company said it will take a $1.13-billion writedown on the Frontier project in Alberta

Most Read