A forecast for cooler temperatures and even rain is giving some hope to evacuees and firefighters after thick smoke from wildfires burning across the Prairies forced the cancellation of a number of outdoor activities that traditionally mark the beginning of the May long weekend.
A fog-like haze obscured visibility in Edmonton on Saturday giving the city a smoky odour not unlike a provincial park campground, where wood-burning fires are now banned throughout the province due to the fire risk.
On Friday, provincial wildfire officials advised Albertans to consider postponing their long weekend plans as nearly 100 wildfires continue to burn throughout the province.
“We appreciate the actions of those who have adapted their plans this weekend to help prevent any further wildfires in the province,” Christie Tucker of Alberta Wildfire said during a news conference Saturday.
The City of Edmonton had planned to open the Fred Broadstock outdoor pool on Saturday morning with a ceremony that was to include Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, but cancelled the event due to air-quality concerns.
Opening day at historically themed Fort Edmonton Park was also called off due to poor air quality.
“Smoke makes it difficult to fly and action wildfires from the air. But it does create cooler conditions that can weaken fire behaviour,” Tucker said.
As far away as Saskatoon, a Saskatchewan Roughriders scrimmage was cut short due to smoke from fires burning in that province.
A number of large wildfires in northern Alberta saw growth on Friday due to hot and dry conditions, including a fire near Chipewyan Lake in the Fort McMurray forest area and the Kimiwan Complex Wildfire which threatens the Peavine Metis Settlement in the Peace River forest area.
However, fire officials say work continues in the community of Fox Lake to create safe conditions that allow evacuated residents to return, beginning with temporary access and escorted community visits.
Tucker said forecasters are tracking a weather front moving into Alberta on Sunday that should bring much needed cooler temperatures, humidity and even rain.
Scattered showers and thunderstorms were already recorded in the southwest boreal area and along the northern part of the Rocky Mountains, she said. Lightning strikes, however, had been observed in the Edson and Grande Prairie areas.
“What we’d like to see is a long, steady rain that will soak into the forest and into the ground. That would help us more than a short burst that would bring lightning and could spark a new wildfire,” Tucker said.