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New evacuation orders issued as ‘aggressive’ northern Alberta wildfires grow

Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes as gusting winds stoke wildfires burning across northern Alberta.

A swath of new evacuation orders were issued Monday, with residents across northern Alberta being told to gas up their vehicles and be ready to leave in a hurry.

New evacuation orders were issued at around 11 p.m. for communities in and near Mackenzie County.

Everyone in the hamlet of La Crete and the rural area outside of the hamlet east of Steep Hill Creek were ordered to leave immediately.

The affected areas also include the Rocky Lane and High Level area north of the Peace River, west of Range Road 150, south of Highway 58, south and southeast of High Level.

In an update posted by the province around 9 p.m. Monday, the province said the Chuckegg Creek fire was burning about 10 kilometres directly west of La Crete.

‘The winds will be the factor’

With dropping humidity levels and winds around 20 kilometres per hour on Tuesday, the fire was expected to be particularly aggressive.

“The fire will continue to move throughout the night, as it did [Monday] night,” read the provincial update.

“The fire could travel about 10 kilometres depending on the conditions.”

The fire now covers around 300,000 hectares of boreal forest — and despite the best efforts of the 890 firefighters working to extinguish it — the fire is expected to grow in size and intensity.

“There is a slight chance of rain [Tuesday] afternoon, however it is going to take substantial rain (more than 20 ml) to make even a slight difference to fire intensity,” the update said.

“These are the driest conditions this area has seen in more than 40 years.

“The winds will be the factor [Tuesday] and we expect the fire to travel in an easterly direction with significant risk of spotting up to 2 km or more in the gusty winds.”

The area is expected to experience a few showers on Tuesday with a high around 22 C. Wildfire information officer Travis Fairweather said  officials are hopeful the rain will give firefighters some reprieve.

“It’s going to take several days of rain to make an impact on this fire, but we’ll take what we can get,” Fairweather said Tuesday morning.

Fairweather said officials remain hopeful the forecasted rain will help dampen the spread of the Chuckegg fire, but it could be months before the fire is fully extinguished.

The wildfire which ravaged Fort McMurray in 2016 smouldered throughout the winter and this fire is expected to do the same.

“Any time you see a wildfire of this size, it’s going to take several months,” he said.

“Certainly we hope to get it from an ‘out of control’ to a state we can call it ‘being held’ or even ‘under control’ by the end of the summer but there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.”

Residents of Dene Tha’ First Nation’s Bushe River and Beaver First Nation’s Child Lake and Boyer River reserve have also been forced to flee.

All Mackenzie County evacuees are required to register at the Fort Vermilion Mackenzie County Office or by calling 780-927-3718. All Bushe River evacuees must register at the Four Chiefs Complex in Bushe River.

Earlier in the day, Alberta Emergency Alert posted a critical alert for Indian Cabins, about 150 kilometres north of High Level in Mackenzie County.

A critical alert was also issued around 5 p.m. for the Trout Lake area of Peerless Lake First Nation telling residents of the Trout Lake area to leave their homes and head south to Edmonton.

The remaining areas of Peerless Trout First Nation must be prepared to evacuate on short notice, the alert said.

The town of High Level said on its website Monday evening that residents aren’t required to leave at the moment, but should gather documents, get food and water ready and fuel their vehicles in case a mandatory evacuation becomes necessary.

Town council said it would be meeting Tuesday morning to review overnight fire behaviour and will provide an update to the residents.

“The fire south of High Level is aggressive, but is not an immediate threat to the town at this time,” read the advisory, which was posted to the town website around 11 p.m.

Close to 5,000 people in High Level and surrounding communities were ordered to leave due to the Chuckegg Creek fire in May, and remained out of their community for two weeks until they were finally allowed to return on June 2.

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