Alberta wildfires force evacuation of Slave Lake

A pair of wind-driven wildlfires forced thousands of residents of Slave Lake, Alta., to evacuate their homes Sunday.

A pair of wind-driven wildlfires forced thousands of residents of Slave Lake, Alta., to evacuate their homes Sunday.

Residents of the town of 7,000 people were leaving via Highway 2 southeast to Athabasca.

The community's town hall has burned down, according to a local radio station, which said that it had lost its own building.

Slave Lake RCMP Staff Sgt. Mike Proctor said "probably 30 per cent of the structures"  in the town had been destroyed by fire.

Alberta Sustainable Resources Minister Mel Knight said the evacuation of Slave Lake, which is about 200 kilometres north of Edmonton, was complicated by road closures.

Hundreds of firefighters are trying to save the town, Knight said. However, fire crews were hampered by heavy smoke and strong winds, which grounded water bombers Sunday.

Slave Lake's website said earlier in the day that the flames had breached the community's southern boundary.

"Please move toward large green areas, beaches or large parking lots like Walmart, Canadian Tire or the Sawridge Mall Parking Lot," the notice said.

"Do not attempt to leave on the highways if they are not open."

Some residents staying

While Slave Lake residents were told to leave town, some have decided to stay.

Bryant Moodie  said he and one other family in their lakeside subdivision feel its safer to remain where they are.

"In the worst possible scenario  — that there was fire right here in the subdivision — I would go to the beach and I think be perfectly safe. The other alternative would be to go to Slave Lake, which I can't do because the whole town is on fire," he told CBC News.

Moodie  said the only other route out of the area is closed.

The RCMP said no injuries have been reported as a result of the fires.

Dozens of new fires

Strong, dry winds gusting up to 70 km/h combined with a lack of precipitation are creating extreme fire conditions over most of the northern half of Alberta.

About 68 new wildfires started in the province between Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

The fires led to a number of evacuation alerts and road closures, in addition to several evacuation orders.  In addition to Slave Lake, the communities affected by the wildfires include Wagner, Canyon Creek, Widewater, Loon River, Marten Lake, Little Buffalo and Fox Creek.

A fire near the Loon River First Nation, about seven kilometres from the town of Red Earth Creek, has caused the suspension of cleanup operations at Plains Midstream Canada's Rainbow pipeline release site.

About 1,000 firefighters, 100 helicopters, 20 air tanks and several pieces of heavy machinery have been deployed to fight the 84 fires currently burning throughout the province, including 29 which are considered to be burning out of control.

Additional equipment and 200 firefighters from B.C. and Ontario are expected to arrive in Alberta by Tuesday.

With files from The Canadian Press