Voluntary evacuation in place for out-of-control Kananaskis wildfire

A voluntary evacuation was in place for the McLean Creek region Sunday.

A voluntary evacuation is in place for the McLean Creek region

Emergency services posted this photo of a fire south of McLean Creek, Alta., on Sunday afternoon. (Redwood Meadows Emergency Services/Facebook)

Firefighters are battling an out-of-control wildfire in Alberta's Kananaskis Country.

The province issued an emergency alert for the Municipal District of Foothills shortly before 4 p.m. Sunday, and notified residents that a voluntary evacuation was in place for areas west of Highway 762, between Highway 22 and 178 Avenue W.

Residents were also instructed to avoid Highway 762, Highway 549, west of Millarville and Highway 66 west of Bragg Creek and to be prepared to evacuate. Range road 54A was closed south of Elbow River.

The blaze, located near McLean Creek, about 16 kilometres southwest of Bragg Creek, was approximately 100 hectares in size as of 5:45 p.m.. Sunday, according to the alert. It was first spotted in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The out-of-control fire is located south of Bragg Creek, Alta. (Alberta Wildfire)

Fire crews from Alberta Forestry and the M.D. were on site, with five helicopters and heavy equipment. 

"People and parties within that area have been notified," said Alberta Wildfire information officer Matt Bell. 

The fire was said to be growing slowly and headed in a north-easterly direction, toward the northwest corner of the M.D.

Smoke in the area could impact driving conditions and air quality, the alert cautioned.

Redwood Meadows Emergency Services wrote in a Facebook post Sunday that the blaze was generating a significant amount of smoke as it was in a cutblock, or clearcut area of the forest. 

"We're just in standby mode right now," said Redwood Meadows Emergency Services Fire Chief Rob Evans. "Obviously, a wild fire with wind is so unpredictable." 

The fire was relatively contained to the McLean Creek area as of 9 p.m. Sunday, Evans said with fire retardant holding the blaze and water bombers set to resume their runs early Monday morning. Crews will be working on breaks to keep the fire in place. 

But with a high of 27 C on the horizon for Monday and low winds on the horizon, about 20 Redwood and Rocky View firefighters will be ready to go if conditions rapidly worsen.

"It's definitely concerning," Evans said. 

Roads were closed near Fisher Creek as crews responded to a wildfire near McLean Creek Sunday. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

Fire conditions usually quiet down overnight, Evans said, but added that crews have to be prepared for anything. 

"You look at the fire down south, the Kenow fire last year, that fire raced at nighttime. You always have to be on guard."

He asked campers to pay attention to ensure campfires are out and stay alert to their surroundings.

"The real danger right now down there are the backcountry campers, people out of cell range, out of range of radios. When you're out camping really pay attention to your environment."

Firefighters from Redwood Meadows and Rocky View wait on standby Sunday night to see if they'll be called to aid in Alberta Wildfire's response to the McLean Creek blaze. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

Campers are being advised to avoid the McLean Creek region, but no homes were thought to be in danger as of Sunday late afternoon.

Evans also suggested residents have a 72-hour kit ready, containing emergency supplies and any valuables, in case they have to leave on short notice. The emergency alert also suggested Rocky View County residents keep their phone off night mode, to ensure they can receive alerts overnight in case conditions change.

Bragg Creek resident and business owner Marina Cooke said the air was filled with smoke earlier in the day, and she was concerned one of her neighbour's homes might have been on fire before she received the emergency alert on her phone notifying her of the wildfire.

"Right now it's pretty clear. Blue skies. It's interesting to think it's so close," Cooke said. "Earlier today it was very, very smoky."

Cooke was spending her evening gathering up her pets and belongings, in case the wind picked up or turned toward the hamlet.

It brought up unhappy memories of 2013, when she was forced to flee her home due to flooding. She lost two businesses that year. 

"Right now it's just getting animals, making sure my son's ready to go, some clothes, toothbrush, maybe some pictures … everything's replaceable except some pictures, and of course, lives."

5 out-of-control wildfires burning

There are five out-of-control wildfires burning in the province, most in northern Alberta, and much of the province is under a fire restriction or fire advisory.

An out-of-control wildfire is defined as a blaze that's still burning and expected to grow larger.

A list of current fires and fire bans is available on the province's website

A 27-person fire crew flew to Alberta from Nova Scotia Sunday to help ensure none of the forest fires get too big to handle, as part of the Canadian Mutual Aid Resource Sharing agreement. 

Bell said the crew is currently working on two fires in the Lac La Biche area, one of which was 7,800 hectares as of Sunday evening and growing.

With files from Anis Heydari, The Canadian Press