Slave Lake fire: ‘We have a very, very serious situation in Alberta’

Slave Lake residents face wait to go home after fire

17 May 2011

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Canada — Residents of fire-ravaged Slave Lake will not be allowed to return home for at least a week, possibly two, says the mayor of the northern Alberta town.

Mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee said she understands people who still have a home standing are anxious to return, but services like drinking water need to be in place before residents are allowed back in.

The entire town, located 250 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, was evacuated Sunday when wind-whipped wildfires suddenly turned and blazed through town, destroying more than a third of its homes, along with the town hall and government centre.

About 100 RCMP officers and Alberta sheriffs are patrolling the town day and night, as well as controlling traffic on the highways leading into the community, said RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Patrick Webb adding that the homes of seven officers were destroyed in the fire.

There are 100 forest fires burning across central and northern Alberta Tuesday — 23 of them out of control and evacuation alerts are in place for more than a half-dozen small communities in the Slave Lake region.

Forest fires north of Fort McMurray forced the evacuation of 2,000 oil workers on Monday.

While gusting winds continue to drive the fires, both wind and temperatures are expected to turn in the favour of firefighters, said wildfire information officer Rob Harris.

Diminishing winds, cooler temperatures, rising humidity and possible rainfall will help battle the more than 100,000 hectares currently burning in the province — more area than burned all of last year, he said.

However forecasts include thunder storms, so firefighters are bracing for more lightning-caused fires over the next few days, said Harris.

About 400 firefighters from British Columbia and Ontario are joining more than 1,000 Alberta firefighters already on the ground.

Calgary fire department sent 116 firefighters and about a dozen pieces of equipment to help mainly with fires in Slave Lake, spokesman Brian McAsey told CBC News Tuesday.

He said the fires in the town of Slave Lake are under control, and the job now included compiling a list of homes and businesses that had been damaged.

People in evacuation shelters in Athabasca, Westlock and Edmonton are being told it will be at least three or four days before they get back to the town to see what is left.

Jaqueline Robinson, who was one of the last people to leave Slave Lake, spent Monday night with her children at a shelter in the Westlock, Alta., community hall, one of three shelters set up by the provincial government.

“It was like something off a movie,” she told CBC News. “It was creepy. We went and checked just to see, just to make sure our house was still up. So far, it’s still up.”

Relief officials have been overwhelmed by the number of donations they’ve been receiving. The Canadian Red Cross asked Tuesday that people not to bring them household goods, food and clothing.

The relief organization only accepts cash donations which enables volunteers to get evacuees exactly what they need.

“The Red Cross will than make every effort to procure new, safe, and standardized items and good which are needed by evacuees,” a news release said.

“The Red Cross makes every effort to keep administration costs for disaster responses to under seven percent of funds raised.”

Information on how to donate can be found on the website of the Canadian Red Cross.

On Monday, officials in Westlock asked people to hold off for at least a day until they could assess the amount of goods they’ve received.

Cash and cheque donations are still being accepted at the Westlock Community Hall and Town Office.


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