Rain forecast could slow record Alberta wildfires, officials say

Light showers and cooler temperatures slowed wildfire activity in Alberta over the long weekend and more forecast rain may help firefighters catch their breath during a record-breaking fire season.

“This could be a turning point for firefighters working on the fires,” Alberta Wildfire’s Christie Tucker said during a news conference Monday.

“We have received rain, as I understand it, in almost all of the wildfires that are currently burning in the province, except for those in the far north.”

She delivered the hopeful message, also telling reporters that 2023 has been the most active fire spring on record with 945,000 hectares burned, up from 615,000 in 2019.

Cooler temperatures and rain are forecast to continue on Tuesday, he noted.

Bre Hutchinson, executive director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, told the news conference that fire danger remains very high or extreme in northern Alberta, and high to very high along the hillsides. eastern Rocky Mountains.

More than 10,000 Albertans continue to be evacuated from their homes.

“Despite the forecast, it is important that all Albertans remain vigilant, especially those who live in areas that remain under evacuation alert,” Hutchinson said.

Progress continues to combat stubborn fires like the one that forced the evacuation of the East Prairie Metis Settlement, where dozens of structures were reportedly destroyed.

Tucker said 56 firefighters and four heavy equipment crews have been working to control the blaze, which has burned nearly 93,000 acres.

Throughout the province, he said, there are about 2,900 firefighters and support personnel from 17 different agencies battling the blazes. That includes an additional 100 Canadian soldiers who joined about 300 other soldiers this weekend, who have been involved in firefighting activities, such as putting out hot spots.

Tucker said requests from the province were still with partner agencies for additional firefighting assistance, because large fires won’t be extinguished after just a few days of rain.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we need to plan ahead to continue fighting these large-scale wildfires.”

Smoke from the fires continued to pose challenges Monday for event organizers and anyone with respiratory problems. In Calgary, a CFL preseason game between the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Elks has been postponed by half an hour, in part to allow additional time to monitor air quality.

In Edmonton, the city announced that an evacuation center that opened earlier this month for people fleeing the fires in Drayton Valley and Brazeau County will close Tuesday as the threat of wildfires in those areas subsides.

“Good neighbors look out for each other and that’s what we did,” City Manager Andre Corbould said in a news release.

The statement noted that since the center opened on May 5, more than 10,000 meals have been served, around 275 cots have been made available, and hotel reservations have been arranged for more than 500 households.

He also said that 336 pets were registered at the evacuation center.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 22, 2023.

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