Homes reportedly destroyed by wildfire in northern Alberta Métis settlement
'Everybody is stressed, highly stressed, because they don't know whose homes were lost'
A massive wildfire burning near High Level, Alta., is reported to have destroyed homes in the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement, says Lori Wanuch, vice chair for the settlement council.
"The last update that we had, the wildfire did take homes," Wanuch told CBC Thursday. "We're unaware of how many at this time."
But wildfire information officer Derek Gagnon said officials can't yet confirm whether any homes have been lost.
"Right now, we're trying to determine if and how many structures have been lost, but we don't have that number right now," Gagnon said Thursday. "We're working to confirm what exactly the situation is on the ground."
There are about 230 homes in the settlement, located 70 kilometres south of High Level, Wanuch said.
"Everybody is very stressed, highly stressed, because they don't know whose homes were lost."
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Firefighters battling the High Level fire brought sprinkler systems in Wednesday to douse homes in the settlement, she said.
"We're hoping it saved homes, but we really don't know at this point," Wanuch said.
There are two out-of-control wildfires in the High Level area.
The Chuckegg Creek fire is approximately 230,000 hectares in size, having grown from 150,000 hectares Wednesday morning, while Wildfire HWF066, around Steen River, is about 17,500 hectares.
Conditions of the Chuckegg Creek wildfire changed over the past 24 hours, Gagnon said.
"We saw significant growth toward the south, and ultimately that evacuation order (for Paddle Prairie) had to be given," he said.
While Alberta Wildfire can recommend evacuation, it is up to local communities to give the order, he said.
About 5,000 people from High Level and surrounding First Nations were evacuated May 20 because of the wildfires.
The elderly, children, and people with health issues were evacuated from Paddle Prairie about a week ago because of heavy smoke, while those remaining left two days ago because of the smoke, she said.
The evacuees are in Grande Prairie, Peace River and Fort Vermilion.
By the time people from the community learned late Wednesday that the wildfire was two kilometres from the settlement it was too late to go back for animals and personal items, she said.
"Animals were left all over the settlement, they had to just go open fences and let them loose, and everybody just left everything," Wanuch said.