Edmonton

'Over-prepare and hope that it's all for nothing': Slave Lake still on evacuation alert

As a wildfire continues to burn north of the Town of Slave Lake, Mayor Tyler Warman says people are ready.

'We're going to push back on Mother Nature and see what happens,' mayor says

Slave Lake wildfires No. 49 (background) and No. 50 (foreground) are seen in this aerial photo posted last week by Alberta Wildfire. As of Wednesday evening, No. 49 has grown to more than 74,000 hectares. (Alberta Wildfire/Facebook)

Steps are being taken to protect Slave Lake as a wildfire continues to rage north of town, but town officials plan to "over-prepare and hope that it's all for nothing," the town's mayor says.

"Forestry is doing a ton of work to put some cat guards in," Tyler Warman told CBC News Friday.

"They're going to be doing some preventative burning for that as well. Around town, we've put a bunch of massive oilfield tanks throughout different places in the community and have filled them with water in anticipation of needing that resource."

Slave Lake mayor Tyler Warman served as a volunteer firefighter in 2011 and says his community "is probably one of the most prepared" to deal with a large wildfire. (Genevieve Normand/CBC)

The fire is 35 kilometres north of Slave Lake. Warman said that gives officials time to make informed decisions. The community remains on an eight-hour evacuation alert.

Residents were told Thursday to ensure they had their vehicles gassed up and essential personal belongings packed and ready to go.

Long-time residents can't help but be reminded of the 2011 fire which destroyed 40 per cent of the town. Warman, a volunteer firefighter at the time, believes Slave Lake is now one of the province's most prepared communities.

"Our residents are very dialled in," Warman said.

"We're constantly in communication. We know, we understand, what kind of communication people are looking for. We've got lots of resources, got a lot of equipment ... So you know we're going to push back on Mother Nature and see what happens."

Warman said the evacuation standby order has many people nervous.

"A lot of the businesses shut down in the afternoon so their residents and their staff could go [prepare].

"So, I think the anxiety level is a lot less today. But you know the forecast can change quickly and there's not a lot of moisture coming up. So we continue to remain very concerned."

The town hall, public library and area schools all remained closed Friday.

"One of the other obviously substantial concerns is a new fire starting up," Warman said. "Rain is not abundant in the forecast and if we do get rain it brings lightning. Things are very dry so we'll continue to communicate, over-prepare and wait to see what happens."

Slave Lake, 260 kilometres north of Edmonton, is home to about 7,000 people. Warman said there are another 700 to 900 wildfire evacuees from other communities also in the area.

Residents prepare

Anthony Turner spent much of the day Thursday and Friday preparing for his family and their animals to make a quick exit if needed.

Anthony Turner, his family and their animals prepare to make a quick exit from Slave Lake if the wildfire north of the town moves closer. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Turner and his family moved to Slave Lake in 2012 into a house that withstood the 2011 wildfire and they've done a lot of work on the house. He said it is shocking to see another major fire so near, just eight years later.

"I don't know if it's really sunk in what's going on," Turner said. "You just try to keep going with things and of course, if something happens, yeah … it's going to be really sad."

He said natural disasters seem to be happening everywhere so he's not considering moving.

"Whether it's fire or floods, it's just difficult," he said. "This is where I work. I travel here. The kids love it here. We just have to hope that this gets contained."

With files from Raffy Boudjikanian

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