Edmonton

Province spending millions fighting fires in northern Alberta

Dry conditions are fueling forest fires across northern Alberta creating a lot of challenges for fire crews and volunteers, and costing the province more than a million dollars every day.

Dry conditions are fueling forest fires across northern Alberta creating a lot of challenges for fire crews and volunteers, and costing the province more than a million dollars every day.

Nearly 100 residents of Chard and Janvier have voluntarily left their homes as a result of the giant House River fire.

Officials issued an evacuation alert for the 600 residents of the two northern communities on Tuesday. They offered people with respiratory problems a place to stay in Fort McMurray if they wanted to leave right away.

Fire information officer Rick Strickland says the smoke and possible danger convinced 92 residents to take them up on the offer.

"The fire behavior there is very explosive. One day we put in guards to fight the winds coming out of the west say, you know we hold it in places and then the next day the winds are out of the southeast going away from out guards. So we're really jumping around playing the tune to the wind.. and there's a lot of fuel there for burning, there's a lot of dead growth...a lot of fuel on the forest floor."

Officials say the House River fire is the largest in Alberta covering more than 2600 square kilometres. That area is equivalent to an area half the size of Prince Edward Island.

In all, it has cost $17 million to fight the fire that began on May 17. The daily cost is now about $1.4 million.

Strickland says many of the residents who chose to leave are elderly. They are are staying at a school in Fort McMurray.

Many of the 250 Conklin evacuees are being housed at another Fort McMurray school. Strickland says heavy rain is needed to get the House River fire under control. But no significant amounts are forecast.

Another forest fire, now the second largest in the province, is burining near near Talbot Lake, about 250 kilometers north of Slave Lake.

Rick Strickland, spokesperson for Sustainable Resource Development, says this fire is out of control.

"It's 1300 hectares (13 square kilometres) and burning conditions there are very good. That's one to look at as being the second largest...and there's a lot of timber there."

Meanwhile the fire burning northeast of Edmonton, near Redwater, is still posing a problem for firefighters. National park rangers and soldiers have joined the fire crews on the front lines.

Volunteer firefighters are weary after the week long battle.So both the military and Parks Canada are pitching in.

Steve Otway normally works as a ranger at Elk Island National Park. He says he's happy to help out, but he says with so many volunteers on site it is difficult to stay organized.

"The biggest challenge when you have so many people from so many jurisdictions...there's who reports to who and how do you report to different organizations...it's sort of like who is on first."

Otway says the rangers have had special fire fighting training and they're acting as sector bosses for the volunteers. The fire forced the evacuation of more than a dozen homes. Residents returned, but remain on evacuation alert.