Warmer temperatures, gusty winds and no rain continued to cause unpredictable conditions for firefighters in northern Alberta on Monday, but officials said measures to keep flames away from threatened communities were working.
The largest blaze in northern Alberta remained about three kilometres southwest of High Level, where crews have been bulldozing, back-burning and water bombing to ensure flames don’t creep closer to the town.
“We did good in the priority area,” Scott Elliott, incident commander for the fire, said Monday in High Level. “As we had forecast, the extreme fire conditions were present and we did see that on big chunks of the fire away from the community.”
Officials said the Chuckegg Creek fire covered about 1,270 square kilometres — up from just over 1,000 square kilometres on the weekend.
Elliott said the weather hasn’t co-operated at all.
“We’re still experiencing hot, dry, windy conditions,” he said. “The threat of extreme fire behaviour has not been alleviated.
“Having said that, the work we’ve completed around the community has been holding, and we are continuing to extinguish any hot spots that remain to ensure that it is safe when people do return into town.”
There were 194 firefighters working to protect homes and other properties in High Level, while 400 firefighters aided by 28 helicopters were fighting the fire itself.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the firefighters in and around High Level have done brilliant work.
“We’ve now gone through about 28 hours of the winds blowing toward the town of High Level and it appears all of the defences constructed by the structural firefighters have been successful,” he said during a news conference. “There is growing confidence the town will be safe so we’ll continue to work with local officials on that.”
Farther south, an emergency alert was issued for Trout Lake because of a three-square-kilometre blaze about 14 kilometres southeast of the tiny community.
Residents of Trout Lake, which is about 500 kilometres north of Edmonton, were told they might need to leave on short notice.
About 5,000 people were ordered to leave High Level and surrounding communities a week ago.
Those evacuees started to receive provincial emergency funds for gas, food and other expenses on Monday. They also heard they should not expect to return home before the weekend.
“This is still a dangerous fire,” said High Level Mayor Crystal McAteer. “The fire currently is not threatening our community and we want to keep it that way.
“We are looking at re-entry plans.”
McAteer said good air quality needs to be ensured and businesses, as well as the hospital, need to be operating before residents return.
“Everything is uncertain here. It’s dry. It’s so dry,” she said. “The winds are uncertain, the rains are uncertain.
“We live in the middle of the boreal forest. We have to be vigilant.”