Brush fire spreading north of Edmonton a major concern: Officials

Brush fire spreading north of Edmonton a major concern: Officials

17 May 2010

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Canada — The risk of a raging brush fire north of Edmonton spreading is extreme, warn officials trying to contain the out-of-control blaze.

It’s grown to cover a 30-square-kilometre area – tying up equipment and more than 200 fire fighters.

Despite the risk, area residents have been allowed back home following an evacuation Sunday – but it may be short-lived.

“The potential for the fire to spread is extreme, and a major concern … is the wind carrying sparks and hot embers beyond the fire guard,” says a Thorhild County release.

Half Moon Lake residents in Westlock County near the growing fire were told to leave their homes late Sunday afternoon.

Hours later, neighbouring Thorhild County – which has declared a local state of emergency – ordered a mandatory evacuation for six homes.

The fire is burning near Opal, about 50 km north of Edmonton.

Most residents have since returned.

However, Westlock County spokeswoman Peggy Hardinge said they’ve been told they may have to leave again.

“They’re allowed to go back, but we’re asking them to stay on high alert in case there’s a significant change and they need to evacuate again,” she said.

A similar warning was issued Monday morning to Thorhild residents in the areas of Pinebrook and Northbrook estates.

Don Livingston, incident commander with Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, said lifting the evacuation order gives those people a chance to pack their personal belongings.

Crews are bracing for a shift in the wind and hot temperatures which would make things worse on Tuesday, Livingston said. Six to 12 homes could potentially be evacuated, he said.

Over 200 provincial firefighters and contract workers, as well as county firefighters, are already battling the blaze with the help of eight helicopters and a number of air tankers spraying water and fire retardant.

Firefighters are battling hot spots and attacking the west flank of the fire, say officials.

A guard has also been set up around the fire perimeter and crews continue to widen the barrier. Homes deemed to be at risk are being protected with sprinkler systems.

“We’re looking at any weak spots,” said Livingston, adding the light winds gave crews a bit of a reprieve Monday.

Hardinge said it’s unclear how many people evacuated their homes on Sunday.

She said 11 families registered at a reception centre – a mix of seasonal and year-round residents. Not all necessarily registered, she said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

It’s been burning since last Wednesday.

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