Events marking the start of the May long weekend in the Prairies are smoked by fires

EDMONTON – A forecast of cooler temperatures and even rain is giving evacuees and firefighters hope after thick smoke from wildfires burning across the prairies forced the cancellation of a series of outdoor activities that traditionally mark the beginning of the long weekend in May.

A smog-like haze obscured visibility in Edmonton on Saturday, giving the city a smoky smell akin to provincial park campgrounds, where wood-burning fires are now banned province-wide due to fire risk. .

Provincial wildfire officials on Friday advised Albertans to consider postponing their long-weekend plans as nearly 100 wildfires continue to burn across the province.

“We appreciate the actions of those who have adapted their plans this weekend to help prevent more wildfires in the province,” Alberta Wildfire’s Christie Tucker said during a news conference on Saturday.

The city of Edmonton had planned to open the Fred Broadstock outdoor pool on Saturday morning with a ceremony that would include Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, but canceled the event due to air quality concerns.

Opening Day at the historically-themed Fort Edmonton Park was also called off due to poor air quality.

A burned section of forest in the area near Edson, Alta., is seen in a handout photo dated May 6, 2023. Provincial officials are classifying the fire, which spans approximately 77,000 acres, as “out of control” as it that has invaded the Minnow Lake Provincial Recreation Area.

“Smoke hinders the flight and action of forest fires from the air. But it creates cooler conditions that can weaken fire behavior,” Tucker said.

As far away as Saskatoon, a skirmish by the Saskatchewan Roughriders was cut short by smoke from the fires burning in that province.

Several large wildfires in northern Alberta grew 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 threatening the Peavine Metis settlement in the Peace River Forest Area.

However, fire officials say work continues in the Fox Lake community to create safe conditions to 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 cooler temperatures, humidity and even rain.

Scattered showers and thunderstorms have already been reported in the southwestern boreal area and along the northern part of the Rocky Mountains, it said. However, lightning had been observed in the Edson and Grande Prairie areas.

“What we would like to see is long, steady rain that soaks the forest and the ground. That would help us more than a small burst that would bring lightning and could start a new wildfire,” Tucker said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 20, 2023.


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