Emergency declared as wildfires roar through Alberta

Emergency declared as wildfires roar through Alberta

4 May 2009

published by www.canada.com

Canada —

Fire crews were fighting to save several homes threatened by bush fires in central Alberta on Monday.

A state of emergency was declared for Lamont County, about 60 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, late Monday afternoon, as winds stoked a brush fire that had temporarily been under control.

Threatened residents were being encouraged to seek shelter at a community recreational centre, or another such facility in nearby Josephburg, Alta.

Sixteen homes in Strathcona County, just east of Edmonton, were evacuated, said Garnet Munro, captain of fire prevention and investigations for Strathcona County’s fire department.

“This fire is not under control at this time,” said Ken Jones, deputy fire chief of Strathcona County Emergency Services.

The fire had grown from about 280 hectares of land Monday morning, to about 350 hectares of land in the afternoon.

The fire was centred on an area just west of Range Road 211, between township roads 562 and 564, and was burning right near secondary highway 830.

“We’re trying to prevent the fire from crossing the highway and threatening another home,” said Jones.

Lamont Reeve Wayne Woldanski said he didn’t expect the state of emergency to last more than a day or two.

“If the fire continues to travel east, it will eventually come up against Highway 45, and then it gets into a lot of farmland. There are a number of farmers in the area who have (built) their farm lands up for fire guards in that area, so we are not anticipating it to be for a long time,” he said.

“We have requested a couple of (bulldozers) from private contractors to be brought in and assist in building fire guards. (The province) has provided a couple of water bombers and they were supposed to bring in a couple of helicopters. We also have some local water trucks that are bringing water to the scene,” Woldanski said.

Gary Muzechka’s cedar log home was evacuated earlier in the day, but the 56-year-old returned later to make sure it was still standing.

“The smoke was coming this way earlier so the fire department told us it was best to leave,” he said.

Muzechka grabbed some pictures and a welding rig that would explode if it caught fire. He said he was staying with family in Fort Saskatchewan, near Edmonton.

Meanwhile, fires in Hobbema, about 90 kilometres south of Edmonton, stayed under control throughout the day Monday, Montana Chief Carolyn Buffalo said.

There were concerns the strong wind would re-ignite smouldering embers.

Fires there claimed three homes on the Hobbema-area Samson and Louis Bull reserves and in nearby Pigeon Lake, but there were “no reports of any injuries,” she said. “We’re still monitoring the situation.”

There were more than 30 fires burning in forest protection areas, which cover about 60 per cent of the province, said Anastasia Drummond, a wildfire information officer with Alberta Sustainable Resources. Only one is out of control, about 100 kilometres northeast of Whitecourt, which is roughly 170 kilometres northwest of Edmonton — it was not threatening any communities.

Wildfires are a threat because the snow has melted, but grass and trees haven’t yet greened up, she said. “The winds this weekend were a particular challenge. We still have a couple weeks of this yet.”

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