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Crews battle a wildfire near Nordegg, Ala., on May 12, 2013. (Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Crews battle a wildfire near Nordegg, Ala., on May 12, 2013. (Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

DISASTER

Alberta towns evacuated over wildfires Add to ...

For about 375 people who still cannot go back home in west-central Alberta, it has been a terrifying start to wildfire season, but officials are hopeful that favourable weather this week will help firefighters battle a pair of out-of-control blazes.

About 125 people were ordered out of Lodgepole, about 180 kilometres southwest of Edmonton, over the weekend, and as the fire raged just 1.6 kilometres from the hamlet, officials said nobody will be allowed back until at least Wednesday.

Meanwhile, 250 people from Nordegg, about 200 kilometres west of Red Deer, were also rushed out of their residences over the weekend, and it is not clear when they can return, as the fire burns just 1.5 kilometres away.

Evacuation centres, with the support of the Red Cross, have been set up in communities not far away. Some residents booked hotels or stayed with friends, and local kennels have offered free pet care. Fire crews worked through the night, and the wildfire is also being attacked from the air.

“You worry about, “Do I have a home to go back to and do I have anything in it,’” said evacuated resident Evangeline Braun of Lodgepole.

On Monday, 28 wildfires were burning in Alberta, and the only two that were out of control were the ones near Nordegg and Lodgepole. But a forecast of cooler temperatures, cloud and rain could help.

“Things are looking pretty good today, and looking good for the rest of the week,” Duncan MacDonnell of Sustainable Resource Development, said on Monday. “I have reason to be optimistic.”

So far this year, Alberta has had 224 wildfires, which is fewer than the 308 that burned on average over a five-year trend. However, the total area scorched for 2013 to date is about 1,812 hectares, which is larger than the average 1,008.5 hectares over the same period.

Officials do not consider this wildfire season unusual, but peculiar – and dangerous – weather on the weekend prompted the province to issue a special bulletin. Dry conditions and winds that hit 100 kilometres per hour placed the fire hazard at “extreme” in central and southern Alberta.

Mr. MacDonnell said the “crossover effect” of high temperature and low humidity could have been deadly, but caused no injuries or damages to structures.

“Was that normal? No, that was an extreme weather day,” he said.

Burning permits were cancelled for huge swaths of the province and no new ones were to be issued. Calgary banned fires and outdoor open flames.

On average during the past decade, Alberta counted more than 1,500 wildfires and about 220,875 hectare of torched landscape on average annually.

About 60 per cent of those were caused by humans. Leaving campfires unattended, dropping cigarettes, using all-terrain vehicles, sparks from trains and “burn piles” from the previous year reigniting are the usual culprits. Lightning is blamed for the other 40 per cent, according to the province.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada said last week that 62 per cent of all insurance losses from natural catastrophes nationwide in 2012 happened in Alberta as a result of extreme weather.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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