Rain and cooler temperatures have aided efforts to control wildfires burning out of control in northwestern Alberta, but provincial and local officials are still advising caution, even as mandatory evacuations are lifted in some areas.
“Let’s thank the good Lord for the rain that we received, and pray for some more,” said Josh Knelsen, reeve of Mackenzie County, appearing in a Facebook video on Sunday alongside Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, High Level Mayor Crystal McAteer and Chief James Ahnassay of the Dene Tha’ First Nation.
The group announced in the video that area residents would be allowed to return home on Monday morning after being under mandatory evacuation for two weeks. A government spokesperson says the order affects about 5,000 people.
Mr. Kenney said things had been looking bad in the area, and he praised local officials and efforts to fight the blaze.
The area will remain under an evacuation alert, and residents are being advised to remain stocked with emergency supplies and gas, and be prepared to leave again if necessary.
“The grocery stores here are up and running for you, the banks are open, the hospital is open. Everything’s ready, so when you come back tomorrow we’ll be very excited to see you,” Mayor McAteer said.
Chief Ahnassay spoke in Cree and told residents to travel safely. “I wish you all a safe journey, and welcome home tomorrow.”
Derek Gagnon, a provincial wildfire information officer, said the Chuckegg Creek fire continues to burn southwest of High Level but had not grown thanks to cooler temperatures and a bit of rain.
“But the fight still goes on,” he added, noting that conditions were expected to become more challenging again. “We want people to remain cautious,” he said. “It is still an active wildfire. This fire is still out of control.”
The Chuckegg fire, about 280,000 hectares in size, is one of several significant blazes in Alberta. The province estimated that 571,000 hectares are burning at present, including the McMillan Wildfire Complex, a large fire north of Slave Lake that has spread to encompass smaller blazes and which Mr. Gagnon says is expected to join with another large fire.
Mandatory evacuations remain in effect for about 6,000 people, and thousands more face evacuation alerts, including residents of Slave Lake, which suffered a devastating wildfire in 2011. Mr. Kenney was expected to tour the area on Sunday afternoon. More than 2,300 people are working to put out fires around the province.
Air quality has also been an issue in some areas, as choking smoke has spread in recent days.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Armed Forces says it has evacuated about 1,500 people from Pikangikum First Nation, a fly-in community in northwestern Ontario, because of a wildfire nearby.
Some evacuees are being taken to Winnipeg and others transported to Thunder Bay and Timmins. Officials say the fire has grown to about 3,600 hectares since it started on Wednesday, but winds are keeping it away from Pikangikum.
With a file from Canadian Press