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Wildfires are raging across Alberta and British Columbia with early-season fires forcing thousands to evacuate their homes. Firefighters from across the country and the U.S., as well as the Canadian Armed Forces, are streaming in to battle the flames. Officials are predicting the worst is yet to come with high temperatures and no rain in the forecast.

Nearly 92 wildfires were active on Wednesday evening in northern and central parts of the Alberta with 26 considered to be out of control. Smoke from the fires blanketed Calgary and surrounding areas after strong winds pushed the acrid air south, prompting air-quality warnings from Environment Canada deeming it “very high risk” to residents.

B.C. had 60 active fires as of Tuesday afternoon, of which 15 were out of control.

Hot, dry conditions have resulted in an early start to the wildfire season. 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.

The Alberta government is providing one-time emergency financial assistance to residents who have been forced out of their homes because of wildfires that are threatening communities across the province.

Here’s what else we know.

The latest evacuations for wildfires in Alberta

About 2,500 firefighters and other responders are in Alberta attacking the blazes with more support requested from outside the province.

As of Wednesday, the province remains under a state of emergency with 13 evacuation orders in place. Many people had been allowed to return, and only about 12,000 remained under evacuation orders thanks to a cold front this week that helped firefighting.

Indigenous Services Canada says wildfires in Alberta are threatening nine First Nations communities, while nine others are identified to be “on watch” for threat of wildfire.

Residents of the K’atl’odeeche First Nation and the nearby town of Hay River in the southern Northwest Territories, just hours from the Alberta border, have also been displaced from their homes after an out-of-control wildfire sparked in the area.

Alerts in Big Lakes County, Brazeau County and the Town of Drayton Valley, the Town of Swan Hills and Grande Prairie County have been rescinded in the past 24 hours.

So far, 486 wildfires in the province have burned close to 745,300 hectares this year. Fires consumed roughly 390,855 hectares by this time in 2019.

Smoke from wildfires in Alberta descended on Calgary Tuesday, giving the sky a deep orange colour. As of May 16, about 90 fires were burning in the province, with 24 considered out of control.

The Alberta government is providing one-time emergency financial assistance to residents who have been forced out of their homes. Adults who have been displaced, by official order, for at least seven consecutive days are to receive $1,250, in addition to $500 for each dependent child under the age of 18, said Ms. Smith during a news conference on Monday afternoon. Payments will be provided through an e-transfer.

On May 7, Premier Danielle Smith met with NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who governed the province when the Fort McMurray fire prompted tens of thousands to evacuate.

Many of the evacuation orders that have affected the northern half of the province have been rescinded, but residents may be forced from their homes again if fires reignite or spread. John Craig, a meteorologist with the federal Environment Department, said the risk of more fires is high, with forests and fields already tinder-dry. “Low winds, very little precipitation and warmer-than-average temperatures. That’s what we’re expecting,” Mr. Craig said.

The hot, dry weather is due partly to a high-pressure system that isn’t expected to break down any time soon, he explained. The heat may approach seasonal records.

In Northern Alberta, Chief Conroy Sewepagaham of Little Red River Cree Nation, which has seen some of the worst damage, said 85 homes have been destroyed in the community that is made up of Fox Lake, John D’Or Prairie, and Garden River.

As of Wednesday, strong winds have carried smoke to neighbouring provinces and created poor air quality in a large part of Western Canada. “Winds have weakened today across most of the province and temperatures are near normal for this time of year, but things will start to change tomorrow,” an Alberta Wildfire official said on Wednesday.

The government of Alberta has mobile apps to keep residents up to date about latest wildfire developments, and all information can be found on the province’s wildfire status website.

Alberta and B.C. wildfires map

Natural Resources Canada’s fire danger map shows a relative index of how easy it is to ignite vegetation, how difficult a fire may be to control and how much damage a fire may do. The Alberta wildfire status dashboard also gives current information on the status of wildfires.

What caused the wildfires in Alberta

Christie Tucker, information unit manager with Alberta Wildfire, said most of the fires are believed to be human-caused. Mike Flannigan, a wildfire expert, adds that while the number of human-caused fires is trending down in Canada, lightning-caused fires are on the rise, contributing to an overall increase in the areas burned.

The current wildfire situation in Alberta also reflects changing climate conditions. The province’s busiest fire period tends to happen in May, said Dr. Flannigan, director of the Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Science at the University of Alberta. A devastating 2016 fire in Fort McMurray took place during May, the same month a significant fire occurred in Slave Lake in 2011.

That’s the time of year when winds, temperatures and other conditions, such as the dryness of the ground, combine to create conditions for extreme fire weather, Dr. Flannigan explains. Such conditions might occur on only a handful of days, but the fires that result tend to be the large ones that result in significant damage to communities or landscapes.

“Research we have done shows that extreme fire weather is increasing, so it’s only going to get more challenging,” Dr. Flannigan said.

Cliff Chapman, the director of provincial operations for BC Wildfire Service, Chapman said there have been 206 fires in the B.C. to date this year, compared with the 10-year average 162. The 10-year average of hectares burned is roughly 11,000, but this year, the province has seen upwards of around 50,000 hectares burned and likely more.

Alberta leaders on the wildfires

Ms. Smith declared a state of emergency due to the threat of wildfires on May 6. She also activated cabinet’s emergency management committee on May 5 and said there would be daily media briefings on the wildfire situation.

“This is a very serious ongoing situation, and Alberta’s government will continue to monitor and provide Albertans with the most up-to-date information,” said a statement from the Premier’s office.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who was campaigning ahead of the May 29 provincial election, took a moment out of an education announcement in Calgary to share sympathies with those affected by the fires.

“Our hearts go out to you in this very, very difficult time,” she said.

Mr. Trudeau told media on Monday that Ottawa will support Albertans “as necessary” and said the federal government will be matching donations to the Red Cross. “It’s what we do,” he said. “Canadians are there for each other.”

The Decibel podcast

With a report from Frédérik-Xavier Duhamel, Alanna Smith, Emma Graney, Carrie Tait, Rachel Ferstl and Canadian Press

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