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Alberta closes 12 provincial parks due to increased risk of wildfires over long weekend

The Alberta government has closed 12 provincial parks and recreation areas ahead of the Victoria Day long weekend to lower the risk of more wildfires starting and spreading.

“The fire danger is expected to be extreme across the northern parts of the province again [Thursday], which could result in some active wildfire behaviour,” Christie Tucker, information unit manager with Alberta Wildfire, said Thursday.

“We will manage the wildfire situation in the face of extreme conditions and we ask Albertans for their help, too.” 

“Don’t be responsible for starting a new wildfire,” Tucker said during Thursday’s wildfire update.

Tucker and Todd Loewen, Alberta’s minister of forestry, parks and tourism, called on Albertans to follow local rules and restrictions to prevent fires. Unseasonably high temperatures are expected to return to Alberta this weekend, threatening to fuel wildfires burning across the province.

As of Thursday afternoon, 98 wildfires are burning in Alberta. Of the 92 wildfires burning inside forest protection areas, 26 are considered out of control.

Campers with reservations in affected areas will receive a refund.

The following parks are now closed:

  • Young’s Point Provincial Park
  • Williamson Provincial Park
  • Smoke Lake Provincial Recreation Area
  • Saskatoon Island Provincial Park
  • Winagami Lake Provincial Park
  • Brazeau Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area
  • Two Lakes Provincial Park
  • Iosegun Lake Provincial Recreation Area
  • Waskahigan River Provincial Recreation Area
  • Blue Rapids Provincial Recreation Area
  • Minnow Lake Provincial Recreation Area
  • Wolf Lake West Provincial Recreation Area

Several other sites are being closely monitored and more closures may be announced over the coming days, the province said. The list of closures will continue to be updated online.

“Conservation officers will be increasing patrols and other staff will be on the landscape to educate Albertans and ensure compliance,” Loewen said.

“It might not seem like it but your actions this weekend will make a difference.”

Alberta is expecting 113 firefighters to arrive from the U.S. and 18 from Yukon on Thursday. 

Since the start of the year 487 wildfires in Alberta have scorched more than 765,000 hectares.

According to Alberta Wildfire, it’s believed that around 47 per cent of the fires were sparked by human activity, while 45 per cent remain under investigation.

WATCH: Why Canada’s wildfires are increasingly destructive 

alberta closes 12 provincial parks due to increased risk of wildfires over long weekend

Why wildfire seasons are getting stronger and longer

24 hours ago

Duration 6:42

John Vaillant has spent years investigating wildfires and the reasons today’s fires are more destructive. He uses photos and videos to show CBC’s chief correspondent Adrienne Arsenault what’s been happening.

Officials with Alberta’s wildfire-fighting agency echoed the call for caution for the weekend ahead. 

A string of human-caused wildfires are recorded every year on the May long weekend, said Josee St-Onge, an information officer with Alberta Wildfire.

“The long weekend is typically, and historically has been, the weekend where we see the most human-caused wildfires on the landscape,” she said. 

“We’re bracing for some difficult conditions, both because the weather is going to be hot and dry … but also because we know that more people are going to be outdoors for the long weekend, enjoying themselves and sometimes that can lead to some unintentional wildfires.” 

St-Onge urged Albertans to obey all fire restrictions, including fire ban and an off-highway vehicle restriction that remain in place across the Forest Protection Area

“The last thing we want is new wildfires starting,” she said. 

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 10,300 people are displaced from communities under threat across central and northern Alberta. 

Smoke from the wildfires continues to cloak communities across Alberta. As of Thursday morning, special air quality statements remained in effect across much of the province due to poor air quality.

The long weekend coincides with the anticipated return of extreme conditions for the more than 2,500 firefighters and soldiers battling to protect communities under threat.

Alberta is expecting 113 firefighters to arrive from the U.S. and 18 from Yukon on Thursday. 

‘Hope on the horizon’

Jesse Wagar, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said an upper ridge which brought record-breaking heat to the province last weekend will again form over Alberta triggering parched conditions and unseasonably high temperatures.

The forecast is calling for daily highs this weekend ranging from 25 to 30 C throughout central and northern Alberta. 

Along with the heat, there will be brisk winds and the risk of thunderstorms, Wagar said. 

“The next couple of days don’t look great for wildfires, but if there is a little bit of hope on the horizon.”

The long-term forecast calls for rain for the beginning of next week across central and northern communities, with parts of west central Alberta likely to see the most precipitation.

“Exactly how much rain we’re going to see remains to be seen,” Wager said. “But it is looking hopeful.” 

Evacuation orders lift

Some Albertans forced to evacuate are returning home, but under caution that wildfires burning near their communities could again become a threat. 

In the northwestern town of Valleyview, evacuation orders were lifted Thursday, and re-entry is underway.

Around 1,850 residents were told to leave Monday afternoon due to fires burning west and northwest of the community. 

In an advisory to residents Thursday, Valleyview town officials said fire barriers have been constructed in vulnerable areas but a state of local emergency remains active and residents should remain prepared to evacuate within one hour.

Also in the northwest, the Municipal District of Greenview is downsizing the area of its evacuation zone for the areas around the district and Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation. Anyone returning to the community, however, should be prepared to evacuate on short notice.

All remaining evacuation orders for the County of Grande Prairie were downgraded Thursday to evacuation alerts. Returning residents must remain on “high alert” and be prepared to evacuate within 30 minutes, the county said.

Residents of Drayton Valley, about 145 kilometres southwest of Edmonton, were allowed to return home Tuesday.  Firefighters continue to work in the area, battling a fire that destroyed homes and buildings on the edge of town.

Some residents in the surrounding Brazeau County remain under evacuation orders due to the risk of of hot spots, ash pits and falling trees in areas ravaged by the flames.

Fox Creek fights the flames

The fight to save Fox Creek, 260 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, which has been under evacuation since May 6, continues.

A wildfire has approached the north side of town, threatening fire barriers meant to hold it back. It remains out of control and has consumed at least 55,000 hectares.

In an update to residents Wednesday, the town said a wooden foot bridge was destroyed but no further damage has been reported. 

“We’ve had no structural loss but it’s creeping in every day,” said Mayor Sheila Gilmour. 

She said the fire has proved unpredictable, spreading outside its containment lines and toward the community, like fingers on a map.

“The wind shifts and changes that big fire,” she said. 

“They have what they call excursions, they look like little fingers on the map … those excursions are the parts that are creeping toward the community.” 

Gilimour said the flames have come within four kilometres of town limits. She remains hopeful that firefighters can hold the line.

“It’s a good day today but every day is different.” 

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