Alberta fighting 44 wildfires

Alberta fighting 44 wildfires

22 May 2011

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Canada — More than 2,000 personnel from across the country have enlisted to battle the 44 wildfires burning across central and northern Alberta’s tinder-like landscape.

As of Sunday evening, eight of those still raged out of control, including the Slave Lake, Alta., inferno that has consumed 4,559 hectares, decimated nearly half the town and left hundreds homeless in recent days.

Suppression operations across the province have spread local resources thin, prompting the province to import some 500 firefighters from British Columbia and Ontario to help battle the blazes.

The province has also deployed approximately 140 helicopters, 32 air tankers and scores of heavy ground-based equipment, and are warning northern Alberta residents to stay indoors to avoid health risks associated with the deteriorating air quality.

A fire ban, which has been upgraded to include fireworks, is still in effect on all provincial land, government officials said Sunday.

Fire has scorched more than 300,000 hectares – an area more than four times the size of Calgary – since the beginning of April.

Meanwhile, officials are quashing speculation that a firebreak may have helped save Slave Lake from the monstrous blaze.

“Many communities do still cut down trees to make firebreaks, however in this case, there was a firebreak in place,” said Duncan MacDonnell with Sustainable Resources. “The highway is considered a firebreak.”

MacDonnell said the trees across the highway are the same distance from the town as they would have been had a firebreak been in its position instead.
He chalks the marked speed and power of the wildfire up to extreme weather conditions.

“This was a special fire and it was fuelled by unfavourable weather conditions,” he said.

Officials say it will be quite some time before they can begin to investigate the details of the blaze.

“At this point, we’re more concerned with putting this fire all the way out than we are with studying it,” he said.

Some of the wildfires still burning across Alberta:

23 km south of Loon Lake, 84,700 hectares (out of control)

15 km southeast of Gift Lake, 2,238 hectares (held)

7.5 km northeast of Red Earth Creek, 19,747 hectares (out of control)

North of Fort McKay, 8,900 hectares (out of control)

21 km north of Fort McMurray, 100 hectares (held)

27 km south of Kinuso, 5,797 hectares (held)

7 km north of Janvier, 847 hectares (held)

Richardson Backcountry, 148,000 hectares (out of control)

This wildfire north of Fort McKay, Alta. continues to rage out of control at 5,000 hectares.

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