Smoke chilled the air and helped slow the spread of wildfires over the weekend in Alberta, officials say

Wildfire activity in Alberta was not as bad over the holiday weekend as officials feared when they saw early forecasts of hot, dry weather due to smoke cover and limited rain in some areas.

But it’s not all good news because while smoke cools the air, it limits the ability to fly firefighting aircraft and harms the health of everyone who has to breathe it.

“It’s certainly a mix of smoke,” Alberta Wildfire’s Christie Tucker said during a news conference on Sunday.

“I couldn’t say one beats the other. We’ll take any opportunity we get, and if it provides an opportunity for more firefighting on the ground, then that’s what we can do.”

Authorities reported Sunday that a wildfire that is part of the Eagle Lake Fire Complex near Fox Creek, Alta, experienced some precipitation overnight Saturday, allowing firefighters on the ground and heavy equipment operators to the opportunity to continue to contain the fire.

Alberta Wildfire forecasters have also indicated that cooler precipitation and temperatures are forecast for the region earlier this week.

Tucker said only five new wildfires started between Friday morning and Sunday morning, some of which could be attributed to Albertans abiding by restrictions on fire and ATV use.

Overall, there were 84 fires in the province on Sunday, 23 of which were out of control. More than 10,000 people were evacuated.

“While we are optimistic that the forecast rain will be enough to make a difference to some wildfires in the province, we are not out of the woods yet,” Tucker said.

Edmonton remained hazy and smoky on Sunday, raising health concerns for event organizers, health officials and people with respiratory problems.

A spokeswoman for the Alberta Health Services said that while she was unable to provide numbers for emergency department visits or calls to the health hotline since the smoke reached many areas last week, there are signs that contamination it’s a problem.

“While AHS does not track 811 calls specifically around smoke, anecdotally, call center staff reported a significant increase in calls over the last 24 hours from areas experiencing air quality issues due to smoke in the area,” Jennifer Green said in an email.

RCMP in Fox Creek said the driver of a large truck was nearby on Saturday after he turned onto a gravel road to avoid a checkpoint and got stuck in the mud.

The fire surrounded it, police said, and it was too dangerous for first responders to reach it. Fortunately, a forestry helicopter took him to safety.

“Incidents like these only put unnecessary pressure on all first responders while threatening the safety of our communities.” said Sgt. Neal Fraser in a news release.

Police said the man could face charges.

Provincial wildfire officials said they were grateful to the owners who assisted crews building a bulldozer line to slow the spread of a fire near Shining Bank, Alta., which is part of the Deep Wildfire Complex. creek.

But they noted in a wildfire update for the region on Sunday that it was “a special situation where owners can work closely with industry to ensure the safety of pipelines and operators.”

They also warned people not to walk into burned areas.

“There are unseen hazards, such as deep burning ash pits, trees falling because their roots have been burned and are not stable, as well as other unknown hazards,” the update for the Edson Forest Area said Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 21, 2023.

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