'Fire came at us furiously and fast:' Crowsnest Pass mayor thankful no lives were lost

Five helicopters and 43 firefighters are working to fully contain a wildfire in the Crowsnest Pass, about 230 kilometres southwest of Calgary.

Residents allowed to return homes Thursday after evacuation order lifted

A wildfire burning near Coleman, Alta., on Tuesday. (Robb Powell)

Five helicopters and 43 firefighters are working to fully contain a wildfire near Coleman, about 230 kilometres southwest of Calgary.

The province lifted the final evacuation orders for the Crowsnest Pass region Thursday morning, allowing all residents to return to their homes. The local state of emergency for the area was cancelled Thursday evening. 

The fire is now classified as being held.

Highway 3 has been reopened, but the province is warning motorists to proceed with caution while driving through the area. 

Evacuees are being asked to obtain re-entry information packages from the municipal office before returning home and are asked to avoid the area if possible to allow fire crews to continue working.

Pat and Gerald Thompson returned to their home in Crowsnest Pass, Alta., on Thursday, after fleeing a wildfire that was spread by 130 km/h winds on Tuesday. (Julien Lecacheur/CBC)

Pat and Gerald Thompson were among those returning to home on Thursday morning. The couple have lived in the Crowsnest Pass for 40 years. 

"I raised all my kids in that house, my grandkids," Pat Thompson told CBC News.

"You don't know whether your place is going to go up in smoke or not. You see [wildfires] on TV and all these people that have to leave their homes, but you never think it's going to happen to you."

A building burning in the Crowsnest Pass just east of the Devon gas plant. (Name withheld by request)

Thompson said she's extremely grateful for the firefighters' hard work in ensuring the blaze didn't reach her home.

"They did a wonderful job. You know, they're fighting that wind, which is 130-klicks. That's hard."

Crowsnest Pass Mayor Blair Painter told CBC News that while the past few days have been stressful, he's grateful the municipality had no casualties and no homes were lost.

Crowsnest Pass Mayor Blair Painter says he's thankful nobody was hurt and no homes were destroyed by the wildfire. (Julien Lecacheur/CBC)

"This fire came at us furiously and very fast with the winds that we were experiencing. Our saving grace was that the winds died down, so we were able to attack, get the helicopters in there, and then we had some rain," said Painter.

"This could have been much, much worse."

He said it's believed the fire was caused by a downed power line.

The 99-hectare blaze was one of 10 fires whipped up by winds of up to 130 km/h across Alberta on Tuesday.​

Environment Canada issued an air quality statement on Thursday afternoon for the Crowsnest Pass area, extending to Waterton and Pincher Creek.

The agency said smoke is causing reduced visibility, and can put children, seniors and those with lung diseases such as asthma at risk.

With files from Julien Lecacheur