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Smoke clouds Alberta as wildfires burn near Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie

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Air quality in much of Alberta worsened overnight as wildfires burn near Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray.

Environment and Climate Change Canada’s air quality health index, which calculates how safe the air is for one’s health, said wildfire smoke created “very high risk” levels on Saturday in Grande Prairie, Peace River, Fort McMurray — and is expected to worsen on Sunday.

Wildfires in B.C. also play a role in air quality statements issued for the Edmonton area, as well as Calgary.

There were 53 total active wildfires burning throughout the province as of 1 p.m. MT Saturday, including three deemed out of control, according to Alberta Wildfire.

An out-of-control fire burning southwest of Fort McMurray, which started Thursday, has grown to about 1,500 hectares. Melissa Story, a spokesperson with Alberta Wildfire, said windy and hot conditions fuelled the fire Friday.

A plume of smoke is seen from an aerial view.
This photo shows a wildfire burning near Fort McMurray at 3:30 p.m. on May 10. (Alberta Wildfire)

“It grew pretty significantly yesterday and we are back in action today,” Story said Saturday

She said firefighters are trying to create a containment line on the fire’s east side, which will act as a guard for Fort McMurray.

Winds were expected to die down Saturday afternoon, she added.

An evacuation alert was issued Friday night for Fort McMurray and Saprae Creek in northeastern Alberta — meaning residents should be prepared to evacuate. The alert remains in place. 

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo issued an additional evacuation alert around 3 p.m. Saturday for Gregoire Lake Estates, Fort McMurray First Nation #468 and Anzac.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo posted on social media Saturday afternoon they anticipate Highway 63 will be impacted by wildfire activity later in the day, resulting in a temporary closure south of the Highway 63 and 881 junction.

It is not believed Highway 881 will be immediately impacted, meaning access to Fort McMurray will not be impeded.

Grande Prairie evacuation

In the County of Grande Prairie in northwest Alberta another out-of-control wildfire is burning about 14 kilometres north of Valhalla, Alta. Story said it’s estimated to be 130 hectares.

“We do have crews on the ground that are looking to enforce the containment lines that were done overnight,” she said, adding that firefighters worked around the clock with heavy equipment to try to build a fire guard.

Some people living in the county were issued an evacuation order Friday night.

The order remains in place from Kleskun Creek North to Township Road 742. Other nearby areas are on evacuation alert.

Story said that was due to a 1,400-hectare mutual aid wildfire — meaning Alberta Wildfire is assisting local crews  outside forest protection areas — that was located northwest of the city of Grande Prairie.

County fire Chief Trevor Grant said the fire conditions on Friday were extreme and made worse by high winds.

“It was essentially just pushing that fire as fast as it wanted to go,” Grant said. “The dry conditions that we have are just adding as much fuel as it wants.”

He said 17 homes were evacuated Friday.

WATCH | Evacuation orders and alerts issued for north Albertan communities: 

smoke clouds alberta as wildfires burn near fort mcmurray grande prairie 1

Thousands of people under evacuation orders and alerts in northern Alberta

12 hours ago

Duration 1:52

As CBC’s Sam Samson reports, fires in Grande Prairie County have forced an evacuation order and residents in Fort MacMurray are on alert to be ready to go on short notice.

Saturday crews are seeing higher temperatures but calmer winds while they work to get a perimeter around the fire, he said.

“We’re going to really make sure that we’re working to try to get those folks home as soon as possible. But we want to make sure that we have a full containment on that fire and it’s not going to spread and threaten those homes again,” Grant said.

The county says some progress was made overnight to contain the fire and no structures have been damaged.

Rob Hoag evacuated from his nearby farm east of Sexmith, Alta. on Friday. It felt like the fire was right in his backyard, he said.

Sky of smoke, people walking on dirt road, pickup truck.
Rob Hoag’s farm east of Sexsmith, Alta., was evacuated Friday. Some of his animals were taken in by neighbours nearby. (Submitted by Rob Hoag)

“The choppers were flying over dropping water so it was intense … just knowing it was coming and not knowing what it was going to do was a little unsettling.”

Hoag’s neighbours took in some of his animals and helped create a fire break along one side of his property.

“We appreciate that beyond measure,” he said. “It’s part of the rural life. Neighbours, they step up for each other and we appreciate that.”

This article is from from cbc.ca (CBC NEWS CANADA)

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