Wildfire evacuation order, alerts lifted for R.M. of Wood Buffalo

Rain, cool temperatures helped lower fire risk in region, mayor says

Thousands of people who fled their communities due to a wildfire in northeastern Alberta are being allowed to return home, as all emergency alerts have been lifted, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Sandy Bowman announced Saturday.

A large wildfire burning near Fort McMurray, which is still deemed out of control, triggered the municipality to issue an evacuation alert more than a week ago. Then, on Tuesday, about 6,600 Fort McMurray residents were forced to leave when an evacuation order was issued for four neighbourhoods: Prairie Creek, Beacon Hill, Abasand and Grayling Terrace.

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Rain and cool temperatures have lowered the fire risk, and firefighting and community protection efforts have made the situation safe enough for people to return, Bowman said.

"I am pleased to announce it is now safe for us to end the current evacuation and allow people to return to their homes," Bowman said.

The wildfire threatening Fort McMurray grew rapidly on Monday, fueled by shifting winds - Alberta Wildfire

The wildfire threatening Fort McMurray grew rapidly on Monday, fuelled by shifting winds. (Alberta Wildfire)

"We will be very pleased to see you and we will thank you for your resolve, patience and strength," he said, addressing residents who evacuated.

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"Welcome back — and please travel safely."

The fire, which ignited on May 9, covers an area of roughly 19,500 hectares, Alberta Wildfire estimates, but its growth appears to have been stymied for several days. It is burning about 5.5 kilometres southwest of Fort McMurray and 4.5 kilometres west of Highways 63 and 881.

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As of Thursday, nearly 2,600 evacuees and 380 pets were registered at reception centres in Lac La Biche, Cold Lake and Edmonton, according to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

Many other residents left voluntarily when the evacuation alert — which means people need to be prepared to leave on short notice — was first issued, in case there was a repeat of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire.

That alert is being lifted, too, so those residents can return, Bowman said.

A state of local emergency declared last Tuesday is also ending, he said.

Thumbnail courtesy of 511 Alberta.

This article was originally published for CBC News on Saturday, May 18.