Provincial state of emergency declared in Alberta as wildfires spread and more residents flee

The Alberta government has declared a provincial state of emergency as out-of-control wildfires force more residents from their homes.

Premier Danielle Smith made the announcement at a media briefing Saturday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, at another media briefing about wildfire conditions, Smith suggested the province was considering a state of emergency.

She also described the current wildfire situation in Alberta as an “unprecedented crisis.”

Under the Emergency Management Act, declaring a state of emergency is a legal mechanism that provides the provincial government with a higher level of intergovernmental co-ordination by working with municipalities, organizations and businesses to support evacuated residents.

This also allows around the clock monitoring of the situation, access to emergency discretionary funds, the ability to mobilize additional support.

Wildfire officials will provide an update of the current wildfire situation at 3:30 p.m. MT. You can watch it here live.

Nearly 25,000 Albertans have been forced from their homes as wildfires continue to rage in north and central Alberta, while 5,200 residents are on evacuation alert.

The number of active fires increased to 110 from 103, as hot and dry conditions led to fast-spreading wildfires that threatened homes, businesses and lives.

Thirty-six of those fires were considered out-of-control.

“I want to assure everyone that our province has the right tools, the right technology, and the right resources in place to tackle this challenge, and they will get the supports that they need,” Smith said.

WATCH | Wildfire evacuees in Alberta speak about fleeing their homes

Evacuees share their concerns as wildfires rage across Alberta

2 days ago


Nearly 25,000 Albertans have been forced from their homes as wildfires continue to rage in north and central Alberta, while 5,200 residents are on evacuation alert.

The federal government is on standby to help, if needed, Smith said.

A statement from the federal Emergency Preparedness office Sunday said Minister Bill Blair “has been in touch with his counterpart and while we have not received a formal Request for Federal Assistance from the Government of Alberta, we stand ready to support them if federal aid or resources are required.”

“It’s a high danger time, but I do have to say this year is significantly higher as far as hectares burned than we’ve seen in the last five years,” wildfire information officer Christie Tucker said during the media briefing.

She added that close to 350,000 hectares of land have burned since Jan 1. as of Saturday evening.

Yesterday was particularly bad in terms of conditions, she said.

“We were expecting extreme wildfire behaviour yesterday with the conditions that we were seeing and that’s what we got,” she said.

A smoke column rises from a wildfire near Shining Bank, Alta. on May 5, 2023. (Alberta Wildfire/Handout via Reuters)

Tucker said that on average, the total hectares burned at this time of year usually sits at around 800.

More than 1,000 evacuees from Drayton Valley and Brazeau County have registered at the Edmonton Expo Centre, the City of Edmonton said in a news release Saturday.

“The City of Edmonton Reception Centre [is providing] temporary lodging, food services, clothing, health care and animal care for people evacuated,” it said.

The Town of High Level also announced Saturday it is assisting as many as 500 evacuees from Rainbow Lake, which was evacuated earlier in the day.

Residents will be offered space in the curling rink. The town is also working on providing space for residents travelling with holiday trailers.

Rain will help firefighting efforts

One of the largest evacuations is in the Edson area, including the town’s 8,000 residents. People in that area are being told to evacuate to Jasper or Hinton, as parts of Highway 16 east of the area are closed.

Edson remains under “significant threat” from an out-of-control wildfire 14 kilometres southeast of the town.

The fire had consumed about 78,000 hectares at the last estimate, Alberta Wildfire said in an update Sunday morning.

The forecast is favourable for the next few days, with trace amounts of rain and overcast conditions in the Edson forest area, which “should assist with firefighting efforts,” the update said.

“That said, not all areas will receive rain, and while every little bit helps, the long-term forecast is predicting a return to hot and dry conditions within a few days, and the high/extreme fire danger is anticipated to resume,” it said.

“Because these wildfires have been so extremely hot and will have burned deep into the ground, these fires can re-ignite again even after several days of light rain, especially once these hot, dry and windy conditions return.”

On Saturday, Alberta Health Services temporarily closed the Edson Healthcare Centre because of wildfire activity in the area. More than 90 patients and residents were moved to other care facilities across the North Zone, AHS said.

The Municipality of Jasper is warning residents to prepare for an extended power outage.

Lindsay Lauer is 36 weeks pregnant and evacuated from Drayton Valley with her family, including her one-year-old child.

“I’m feeling just very overwhelmed and very scared and unsure of what’s happening in our community,” she said.

“It was a very traumatic experience for sure for my family. So there’s a lot of different emotions going on right now.”

Her husband has cattle he had to leave behind. She said it was sad to see people’s way of life at risk around Drayton Valley.

“I’ve already had a very complicated pregnancy, which has not been easy on my family and I,” Lauer said.

“I think just to be hit with this as well, really just was like the cherry on top of the cake to a lot of things for us.”

A total of 79 firefighters from Ontario and Quebec will arrive in Alberta today to help battle the numerous fires that have ignited over the past week. An additional 200 firefighters will arrive in the coming days.

The entire province is under a fire ban. A provincial off-highway vehicle restriction is in place. The recreational use of off-highway vehicles on public land, including on designated OHV trails, is prohibited.

Alberta Wildfire is also asking people who are flying recreational drones to stop immediately.

“We have heard that people are using recreational drones operating illegally within wildfire areas of operation that can be incredibly dangerous for firefighters and for those pilots who are flying the area and can inhibit our ability to fight those fires,” Tucker said.

A plume of smoke behind Entwistle Community Church, as seen on Friday afternoon. Entwistle is one of several communities in Alberta under evacuation order. (Submitted by Mark Cacka)

Police arrest 4 in relation to break-in

Meanwhile, break-ins in some areas are being reported as people flee their homes.

RCMP arrested four people in relation to a break-in to a gas station in Drayton Valley, Cpl. Troy Savinkoff said in an emailed statement.

“We have investigators determining the suspects’ potential involvement in other break-ins in the community,” Savinkoff said.

These types of break-ins are part of why Zachary Dressler has stayed behind at his home in Drayton Valley, even though the town is under an evacuation order.

“I’m super paranoid about somebody breaking into my house,” he told CBC News Saturday.

“That would really upset me a lot. So I was like, it would be better for me to be here. And if it became a fact of my house burning down then … I would have left immediately and I would have been able to leave because nobody was here.”

Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, commanding officer of Alberta RCMP, said in a news conference Saturday that most people are co-operating with evacuation orders.

“There are a few however who are somewhat reluctant and perhaps have concerns or maybe significant concerns with an evacuation. And of course, we’re working with them and working with the local authorities to resolve those concerns and those situations.”

Zablocki said that so far, these incidents appear to be few and far between.