Rain puts a damper on raging wildfires
May 24, 2023 By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh
Firefighters tackling Alberta’s rampant wildfires thanked the heavens for the precipitation seen over much of the province since the weekend.
“Alberta is starting to see some cooler temperatures and scattered precipitation, helping to provide some relief to firefighters,” said Bre Hutchinson, executive director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency during Tuesday’s daily provincial update on the wildfire situation.
“We’re hoping the weather continues to assist in the fight against these wildfires.”
Officials are reporting that progress is starting to be made during Alberta’s worst-ever wildfire season.
“Due to the hard work of firefighters along with the weather, we have been able to reclassify the Sturgeon Lake Complex near Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation and Valleyview from `out of control’ to `being held’,” said Christie Tucker, information unit manager with Alberta Wildfire.
“That means that the fire is not expected to grow beyond the established boundaries under the current conditions.”
Alberta is still under a provincial state of emergency, however. A fire ban and an off-highway vehicle restriction is in place across the Forest Protection Area. There is a fire ban throughout Jasper and Jasper National Park as well. People are asked not to use drones near wildfires as it puts firefighters and the public at risk. It forces helicopter bucketing operations to ground due to unsafe airspace, which allows the wildfires to grow.
Closer to Jasper, the Edson Forest Area wildfire danger went from “extreme” on Monday down to “moderate” on Tuesday.
There are 74 wildfires burning across the province as of Tuesday afternoon, 71 of which are in the Forest Protection Areas, a decrease of nearly 10 since the day before. There were still 20 wildfires classified as out of control.
There are 22 states of local emergency, five Band Council resolutions and an estimated 10,655 Albertans evacuated at this time. The total number of evacuation orders now stands at 15.
To date, the province has responded to more than 520 wildfires that have burned more than 1,017,000 ha. By comparison, the Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016 burned approximately 590,000 ha.
“Today, we’ve seen a continuation of the showers that started in the province yesterday and the lower fire behaviour that resulted from that,” Tucker said.
“Many of the major wildfires burning received some rain, which means these are good days for firefighters to make real progress on containing these fires.”
Tucker tallied up 1,123 firefighters from across Canada and the United States who are assisting nearly 1,700 firefighters from Alberta Wildfire. The agency is also working closely with municipal fire departments who are protecting their own communities.
More help is still needed, and more is already on the way, she said.
“Even though we have made headway on many wildfires on the landscape, we know that the season is far from over. We need to be prepared,” she said, noting that more teams are coming from outside the province this week.
They include a team from Parks Canada and nearly 100 more from the U.S. Near the end of this week, additional help is expected to arrive from New Zealand and Australia.
“We will continue to prioritize those wildfires where communities are still at risk and will focus our resources to those areas that are still out there waiting for rain,” Tucker said.
Hutchinson thanked current evacuees for their continuing patience and understanding, especially in the light of misinformation that has been spreading.
“We’re working hard to make sure conditions are safe for evacuees to return home,” she said.
“It’s also critical people continue to avoid any activities that might start new fires or make the current situation worse. We know Albertans who have been evacuated are eager to return home, and rumours may be swirling, but it’s very important to listen to instructions from local officials and wait for their official word.”