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Extreme Prairie winds spark evacuations, derailments

Digital writers

Wednesday, October 18, 2017, 12:10 PM - Extreme winds, well exceeding the 100 km/h mark, have worsened wildfires, forced evacuations, and derailed trains in the Prairie provinces, with the winds still gusty, and ramping up in some spots.

A gust of 141 km/h was recorded at the Waterton Dam in southern Alberta, while in Saskatchewan, Moose Jaw saw a maximum gust of 134 km/h, and numerous cities across the province saw lesser but still damaging winds.

Here's how the windstorm affected the region.

Train derailments

At least two train derailments occurred due to the strong winds, with dozens of cars off the tracks.

Near Wainwright, several freight cars tumbled off a trestle bridge near Township Road 542 in the early evening, RCMP told CBC News. No injuries have been reported.

Elsewhere, a derailment in the Trochu area near Red Deer around 25 cars jump the tracks, according to CBC News.

RCMP told the broadcaster it was too soon to tell what caused that particular derailment. However, given the extreme wind conditions at the time, it was plausible they were a factor in the derailment.

RCMP Cpl. Curtis Peter also said a third train caught fire at the Agrium plant near Strathmore, Alta., which in turn sparked a grass fire. It's not clear what caused the initial fire, but no injuries were reported.

Wildfires trigger evacuation orders

Those strong winds helped fan the flames of several wildfires, forcing evacuations near the Saskatchewan/Alberta border.

People in the town of Burstall and the southern half of the RM of Deerforks #232 were ordered to evacuate as nearby flames burned out of control. The town of Leader soon followed suit, though those evacuation orders were rescinded late Wednesday morning.

In southern Alberta, multiple fires were reported, also prompting states of emergency to be declared in several communities, along with some evacuations. The Calgary Herald reports wildfires prompted emergencies in two communities east of the city.

Watch below: Wildfires burn near Lethbridge, Alta.

Firefighters had mostly brought the blazes under control by Wednesday morning, and residents were largely allowed to return to their homes in Acadia Valley and Wheatland County late Tuesday night, though evacuation orders were still in effect in the Crowsnest area, and at least one structure had burned in the Balzac area, the Herald reports.

Widespread damage

The windstorm's extreme gusts, nearing or exceeding the threshold for Category 1 hurricane status in many area, caused widespread damage to communities in both provinces.

Buildings were damaged, trees and power poles snapped, and vehicles and even heavy structures toppled.

For Wednesday, wind warnings were still in effect in the Alberta Foothills, where gusts of 110 km/h are possible by the afternoon, and for parts of Saskatchewan, where gusty winds will endure through the morning.

Manitoba is also set for strong winds as the system moves through on its way to northwestern Ontario.

SOURCES: CBC News | Saskatchewan Emergency Alerts | CBC News | Alberta Emergency Alert | Calgary Herald

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