May 26th, 2024

Growing wildfires across Western Canada forcing thousands from their homes

By The Canadian Press on May 15, 2024.

A wildfire that forced thousands of residents to flee homes in Fort McMurray is sending plumes of smoke into the air, but the regional fire chief says it's much different from a devastating blaze that crippled the Alberta city in 2016. Crews work to clean up the wildfire destruction in Fort McMurray, Alta, on Friday, June 24, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

A wildfire that forced thousands of residents to flee homes in Fort McMurray is sending plumes of smoke into the air, but the regional fire chief says it’s much different from a devastating blaze that crippled the Alberta city in 2016.

“I know this is an extremely stressful situation, but I want to assure everyone that this fire activity is very different from that of 2016 Horse River wildfire,” fire chief Jody Butz said Tuesday evening.

That fire, known as The Beast, roared through spruce trees and destroyed much of the oilsands community. The recovery took years.

Butz said The Beast has cast a long shadow over the response to the fire currently burning just south of the city.

But, he said, this fire is different. It’s burning along the surface of the ground, through the aftermath of the former blaze, and has much less fuel. Muskeg is generating the smoke, he said.

“We are way better positioned now,” Butz said.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said Wednesday on social media that crews worked until 3 a.m. dropping water on the fire, which had grown to 210 square kilometres in size.

The fire was about 4.5 kilometres from the intersection of Highway 63 and Highway 881 and about 5.5 kilometres from the Fort McMurray landfill, which is close to the city’s outskirts.

The municipality said crews are building a containment line near the landfill. Little rain Tuesday night was expected to have minimal impact on the fire, it added.

Wildfire season has started early, with several fires burning across Western Canada forcing residents out of their homes.

In British Columbia, a widening area around the northeastern community of Fort Nelson remained under evacuation, with a fire burning close by and another raging to the northwest.

Mayor Rob Fraser urged residents not to return to their homes after RCMP had to relocate a safety checkpoint outside the community. He said emergency crews need to focus on fighting the fires rather than looking out for people heading into harm’s way.

Structure Protection Branch director Kevin Delgarno said crews worked until about midnight Tuesday, not into the next morning, as they had in the days before.

“The fire behaviour’s settled down and hasn’t been as aggressive.”

He said the forecast continued to look favourable.

In Manitoba, about 500 people have been forced out of their homes in the remote northwestern community of Cranberry Portage.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2024.

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