Red flag warning issued on wildfire burning near High Level

More hot, dry weather with moderate winds have resulted in a red flag warning being issued in relation to the Chuckegg Creek wildfire near High Level, Alta.

Conditions could lead to 'blow-up fire behaviour,' officials say

Heavy smoke limited visibility for aircraft fighting the Chuckegg Creek wildfire on Tuesday. (Government of Alberta)

red flag warning has been issued for the Chuckegg Creek wildfire near High Level, Alta., due to hot, dry weather and moderate winds.

Such warnings are issued when fire weather meteorologists see conditions that could lead to "blow-up fire behaviour," said Derek Gagnon, wildfire information officer.

"Fires will grow very rapidly and spread very quickly, and that can pose a critical degree of danger to not only our personnel but the public as well," Gagnon said on Wednesday.

High temperatures, low humidity, stronger winds and dry conditions on the ground are all factors that contribute to a red flag warning, he said. This is the second time such a warning has been issued for the Chuckegg Creek wildfire. Similar warnings have been issued in connection with other fires burning in northern Alberta, he said.

The terminology for the red flag warning is new to Alberta this fire season, Gagnon said, though the information has always been conveyed to wildfire officials by meteorologists in their twice daily forecasts.    

The system has been in use in the U.S., and the standardized system is especially useful when firefighters from other provinces come to Alberta to fight wildfires, he said.

Heavy smoke limited efforts

"It's our way of saying that there is a cause for concern, based on what we're seeing with the weather, and this is a significant enough issue that we are putting out this warning to make sure crews are aware of the hazards at play," Gagnon said.

Heavy smoke limited the ability of aircraft to safely operate Tuesday, the latest report from Alberta Wildfire said.

Parts of northern Alberta remain under a special air-quality advisory.

The Chuckegg Creek fire covers approximately 150,000 hectares, Gagnon said. Despite the growth of the fire, the firebreaks crews have established are holding, he said.

This photo shows a firefighter at work last Friday as crews tried to contain the blaze. (Chris Schwarz-Government of Alberta/The Canadian Press)

A second out-of-control fire, just north of the Chuckegg Creek fire, is now over 17,000 hectares in size and has resulted in the closure of Highway 35, Gagnon said.

The highway remains closed in both directions between the Zama City turnoff, about 80 kilometres north of High Level, and the Northwest Territories boundary.

An emergency alert was issued at 1 p.m. Wednesday ordering everyone in the area of La Crete Ferry Campground, 80 km south of High Level, to evacuate immediately. The order included an area up to two kilometres east of the campground. The area of evacuation was expanded at 8:24 p.m., from the La Crete Ferry Campground east to Range Road 164 and north and south of Highway 687. Residents in the area are being told to head east on Highway 697 to La Crete where a reception centre is located. 

Just after 5 p.m. MT, a second evacuation alert was issued, this time for Keg River and Carcajou are, including residents from the northern border of the County of Northern Lights south to Township Road 922. Residents in those areas are told to drive south on Highway 35. 

Another wildfire prompted an evacuation order for the hamlet of Wabasca and the Bigstone Cree Nation - Wabasca #166 at 8:44 p.m. Wednesday. 

People on the east side of the Peace River were told to evacuate toward La Crete, while those on the west side were told to evacuate to Highway 35.

In the Slave Lake forest area, a new wildfire started Sunday about 14 kilometres southeast of Trout Lake, a community 300 kilometres northeast of Grande Prairie. That fire has doubled in size and is now approximately 600 hectares.

The latest update from Alberta Wildfire said most of the fire growth happened away from the community of Trout Lake.

A provincial emergency alert issued on behalf of Peerless Trout First Nation on Sunday night warned the 350 residents of the remote community they should be prepared to leave on short notice.

Aid for evacuees

Almost 5,000 people from High Level and nearby First Nations have been out of their homes since the area was evacuated May 20.

To date, the Alberta government has provided more than $4.9 million in one-time, emergency support payments to about 5,000 evacuees affected by the wildfires, a news release said Tuesday.

Grade 12 students in the High Level area are eligible for an exemption from their diploma exams, meaning they can use their classroom marks as their final grades. Students can also defer writing the diploma exams until August.

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale told reporters Wednesday that Alberta has yet to make a formal request for assistance. 

"At this stage, they don't expect to need to file a formal request for assistance from the Government of Canada, but we're in very close communication, and we'll be offering every level of support and cooperation that's necessary," he said.