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Alberta: Thousands evacuated in north due to fire threat

Wednesday, June 19th 2019, 6:10 pm - "We're praying for rain out here."

While central Alberta is under a rainfall warning, thousands of people in MacKenzie County in northern Alberta are being evacuated from their homes in face of aggressive and growing wildfires.

Evacuation orders were issued around 11 p.m. on Monday. and officials expect about 7,000 evacuees from La Crete and nearby communities to eventually register at the Fort Vermilion MacKenzie County Office.

"A lot of people are going to friends and family in non-evacuated areas," said Josh Knelsen, county reeve.

albera-wildfire

(The Chuckegg Creek wildfire which now covers around 300,000 hectares of northern Alberta forest, continues to threaten communities in MacKenzie County. Alberta Wildfire/Facebook)

Knelsen said about 120 people are staying at the reception centre in Fort Vermilion. Others have gone to High Level, Slave Lake, Grand Prairie and surrounding areas, he said.

"We're praying for rain out here," said Knelsen. "It's kind of sad when something like this becomes part of your reality and part of your daily life."

On Tuesday, the province said the Chuckegg Creek fire, now 325,000 hectares in size, is approximately six kilometres south of Devil Lake, which is about an hour's drive from La Crete.

The evacuations come as parts of west-central Alberta were under a rainfall warning Wednesday.

Screen Shot 2019-06-19 at 11.05.53 AM (Image: An evacuation has been order for everyone in the Hamlet of La Crete and the rural area outside of the Hamlet east of Steep Hill Creek (Range Road 164), west of Range Road 150, south of the Peace River, north of Highway 697. Courtesy emergencyalert.alberta.ca)

"UNCERTAINTY OF NOT KNOWING"

Larry Neufeld, manager at La Crete and Area Chamber of Commerce, was heading to Edmonton Wednesday morning with his wife and three kids after evacuating Buffalo Head Prairie.

Neufeld is trying to keep the community calm by posting regular updates, including weather forecasts and messages from Alberta Wildfire, on the chamber's Facebook page, he said.

"It helps people not panic; they have the facts and then they can deal with it. The uncertainty of not knowing has caused a lot of panic, frustration, confusion, lack of trust," he said.

Jake Fehr, a pilot and La Crete resident, has also been posting photos and videos of the wildfire.

"The town has been evacuated and people have left, and all they're thinking is their house probably burned down by now," Fehr said.

alberta fire cbc A photo of the Chuckegg Creek wildfire posted by pilot Jake Fehr on Monday night. (Facebook: Jake Fehr)

"I feel I just need to let the people know that all is well. I don't want to undermine the [work of] emergency people, but a picture is worth a thousand words," Fehr said.

"Everything will be alright," he said. "This is normal living in this part of the world.

"I love living up here, I don't want to be anywhere else in the world."

This article was originally published on CBC.ca with files from The Canadian Press and CBC's Madeleine Cummings.

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