Alberta Premier Danielle Smith intends to ask Ottawa for help on Monday, as wildfires rip through the province, forcing 29,000 people from their homes and burning dozens of buildings, including a number of dwellings in a northern Indigenous community.
Alberta counted 108 active wildfires, including 31 that were out of control, as of Sunday afternoon. Fires in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, fuelled by the same hot, dry, conditions as those in Alberta, recently prompted smaller evacuation efforts in those provinces.
Cooler temperatures and calmer winds brought reprieve to parts of Alberta on Sunday, but a number of areas remain under threat should the weather turn.
Ms. Smith declared a provincial state of emergency Saturday, after attending a campaign event in Calgary. Her emergency management cabinet committee first met Friday, in the wake of thousands of people being ordered to evacuate their homes earlier in the week.
Alberta’s wildfire season is off to an aggressive start. There are a number of fires threatening communities in the north and west-central parts of the province, rather than one or two major blazes encroaching on a small number of communities in close proximity. The fires have consumed roughly 391,000 hectares so far this year, compared with only 417 hectares by this time last year.
The blazes, which dot the north and west-central regions of the province, accelerated last week as Alberta’s general election campaign kicked off, putting politicians in an awkward position. United Conservative Party candidates in three ridings affected by the fires have paused campaign activities, while the New Democratic Party froze its efforts in seven ridings. The election is scheduled for May 29.
Ms. Smith has a call scheduled with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for Monday morning, said Colin Aitchison, a spokesperson for the Premier’s office. Ms. Smith “will be asking the federal government for assistance” during the call, Mr. Aitchison said. The Prime Minister’s Office did not return a message seeking comment. The Canadian military assisted Alberta during the Fort McMurray fire in 2016 and floods in the southern part of the province in 2013.
Mike Ellis, Alberta’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services, has been in “direct contact” with Bill Blair, his federal counterpart, Mr. Aitchison said. Mr. Blair’s office confirmed this contact and said the federal government stands ready to support the province.
Thousands of people have evacuated from areas in northwest Alberta as wildfires burn through around 400,000 hectares of land. At a news conference on Sunday, Alberta Wildfire said the scale of the blazes is being called unprecedented with so much burning so early in the fire season.
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Mr. Trudeau, who was in London for the coronation of King Charles, told reporters Sunday that the federal government has been “monitoring closely” the wildfires and floods in Alberta, B.C. and Quebec.
“The federal government stands by to support, to help, in any way possible,” he said.
Preliminary information indicates that the fires have ruined dozens of homes in communities across Alberta. In the north, Chief Conroy Sewepagaham of the Little Red River Cree Nation said in a video posted to social media that the Paskwa fire near Fox Lake burned more than 45 homes and 16,400 hectares so far.
“We’re hoping we don’t lose any more homes,” he said in an update Saturday.
Ruby Nanooch, 55, lives on the north side of the Peace River and can see the smoke from the Paskwa fire. She is worried that the blaze will jump the river and force her and her family to evacuate. “We’re packing our clothes.”
Colin Blair, the executive director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, on Sunday said the Paskwa fire destroyed “at least” 20 homes, a store and the local RCMP detachment. He noted, however, that officials are still collecting information.
The fire near Edson, Alta., which forced more than 8,000 people to evacuate, is threatening critical power and electricity infrastructure, he said. “The current priority is the protection of the substation which powers both Hinton and Jasper.”
Fire damaged 21 structures in Hansonville, Lobstick and Wildwood, which are small communities about 100 kilometres west of Edmonton, Mr. Blair said. Homes and buildings have also been affected on the O’Chiese First Nation and near High Prairie, Alta.
Brian Panasiuk, the mayor of High Prairie, said flames came within four kilometres of the south edge of his town Saturday. The community of about 2,500 people was minutes away from evacuating, he said.
“We’re still in a lot of danger,” Mr. Panasiuk said in an interview Sunday. High Prairie, which is serving as an evacuation centre for neighbouring rural residents, asked the province for a communications tower and more resources, he said.
Alberta Health Services (AHS), the provincial health authority, on Saturday temporarily closed the High Prairie Health Complex and J.B. Wood Continuing Care Centre, and evacuated more than 80 patients and residents. AHS has also closed and evacuated the Fox Creek Healthcare Centre, Edson Healthcare Centre and the Drayton Valley Hospital and Care Centre.
Christie Tucker, an information unit manager for Alberta Wildfire, said the province has requested help from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre and from partners in the United States. An incident management team from B.C. was scheduled to arrive Sunday and will take over two wildfires, including the one near Edson, Ms. Tucker said. Firefighters from Quebec and B.C. arrived in Alberta Saturday.
The Premier on Sunday met with NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who governed the province when the Fort McMurray fire prompted tens of thousands to evacuate.
“I will continue to keep her informed of the wildfire situation across Alberta and the active provincial state of emergency,” Ms. Smith said on Twitter. “At times like these, Albertans expect all their elected leaders to work together to help our people.”
With reports from Frédérik-Xavier Duhamel