Wildfires prompt alerts for hamlet near Fort McMurray, Cold Lake First Nations

First Nation of Cold Lake #149 residents near the fire told to leave area immediately

Residents of one northern Alberta hamlet are being told to be prepared for a possible evacuation as a nearby wildfire threatens to spread toward the community, while some residents on a Cold Lake area reserve need to evacuate the area immediately.

An emergency alert was issued just before 5 p.m. for First Nation of Cold Lake #149 (Legoff) due to a wildfire nearby. Residents have been told to go to the community hall and to look for updates on social media. The alert states the wildfire is burning in the area between Range Road 430 and Range Road 434.

Alberta wildfires as of April 22, 2024

The hamlet of Saprae Creek Estates, about 30 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray, remains on evacuation alert. A critical wildfire alert for the hamlet in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo was issued Sunday afternoon.

An evacuation alert was issued Monday afternoon for the community of Bilby Common, a subdivision in rural Lac Ste. Anne County. It was later cancelled.

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The fire near Saprae Creek started Sunday, about six kilometres outside the hamlet. It continues to burn out of control on the south side of the Clearwater River. About 700 people who live in Saprae Creek should be prepared to leave on short notice, provincial wildfire officials said.

The fire, which has already consumed nearly 70 hectares of forest, is now burning about 4.5 km east of Saprae Creek.

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"Yesterday crews and resources worked to strengthen the fireguard along the western flank of the wildfire," Alberta Wildfire said in a statement Monday.

"They are working towards containing that flank of the fire and then they will work towards controlling it."

Alberta Wildfire - April 22, 2024: A wildfire near the community of Saprae Creek Estates has put residents of the hamlet under an evacuation alert. (Alberta Wildfire)

A wildfire near the community of Saprae Creek Estates has put residents of the hamlet under an evacuation alert. (Alberta Wildfire)

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Helicopter crews worked throughout the night to douse the flames and that work will continue as long as conditions permit, officials said.

Air tankers will also lay down more fire retardant along the fire's edge as crews continue to fight along the western flank and work to douse a nearby spot fire.

Four firefighting crews, six helicopters, two air tanker groups, and five heavy equipment groups will be working on the fire Monday.

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In a statement to social media Sunday, municipal officials said people should pay attention to official wildfire updates, make an emergency plan with family, and pack a 72-hour emergency kit.

Jody Butz, regional fire chief and director of emergency management for the municipality, said officials are hopeful that progress is being made.

"We're going to watch the heat of the day to see how the fire reacts to the temperatures to see if our mitigation efforts were successful," Butz said.

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"We're staying focused on the fire but we're feeling really good about it. We're optimistic that all the suppression efforts were successful yesterday."

Butz said the fire is a reminder that all residents need to be prepared for the wildfire season ahead.

Rose Paterson, who lives in Saprae Creek, said her family is well-prepared, especially after living through the 2016 wildfire.

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"That time was a big surprise that we actually couldn't go home for three months," she said. "So, this time we're like 'OK, let's be a little more prepared.' So we had each of the kids round up a bag with a few nights of clothes and their most precious, irreplaceable things. And had our cars packed and ready to go."

Paterson said the municipality has been doing a great job with communication and keeping residents up to date.

RCMP have urged residents to stay away from the fire and said drones flying in the area were interfering with firefighting efforts.

In a statement Sunday, RCMP said drones had temporarily grounded helicopters that had been deployed to the area.

Provincial wildfire officials have warned that dry conditions over the winter have increased the risk of wildfires this spring, and warmer temperatures and rising winds over the weekend could increase the risk of fires.

As of Monday, 65 wildfires were burning across Alberta, including three burning out of control.

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In 2016, a massive wildfire engulfed the city of Fort McMurray, driving thousands of people from their homes and destroying 2,400 buildings.

Meanwhile, near Slave Lake, a wildfire fire in the area of Canyon Creek triggered a temporary closure of Highway 2 on Sunday afternoon.

For several hours, sections of the highway near the fire were experiencing poor visibility due to the smoke. The highway has since re-opened.

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This article was originally written by Wallis Snowdon and published for CBC News on April 22, 2024.