Wildfire displaces hundreds from Dene Tha' First Nation in northern Alberta
'The bottom line is that people's safety is of the utmost importance'
A wildfire burning out of control in northwestern Alberta has pushed out hundreds of residents from Dene Tha' First Nation, 800 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.
Chief and council issued an evacuation order Monday night for members of Bushe River, where the fire spanning nearly 80,000 hectares burned about four kilometres away.
By Tuesday, residents were also being evacuated from the community's neighbouring reserves.
Chief James Ahnassay said 300 residents from Meander River are on the move after power lines were destroyed by the fire. An evacuation order was issued Tuesday afternoon.
While the fire itself isn't threatening residents in Chateh, children, elders and those with respiratory conditions are being moved out because of the thick smoke.
"The bottom line is that people's safety is of the utmost importance," said Ahnassay, speaking to CBC by phone from the command centre in Bushe. "So even though we suffer for a bit, for two or three days, we're hoping it's not going to be more than 72 hours. But one never knows."
Ahnassay said more than 200 Bushe River residents are now staying in neighbouring communities such as High Prairie, Slave Lake, Peace River and Beaver Lake Cree Nation. They're being put up in hotels, community centres and gyms, or with family and friends.
Angelene Tsonchoke and her family have been on high alert for the past two days. On Tuesday, she loaded up two vehicles with the bare necessities and her eight grandchildren, aged 15 to five months.
"We're just taking clothes and blankets — that's it," said Tsonchoke, who left behind her home of nearly three decades. "We don't know what we're going to come back to."
The Dene Tha's Facebook page is posting frequent updates about the evacuation orders, routes out of the community, and places to stay.
Hay River Reserve and La Crete Heritage Centre are among the list of additional communities that have set up reception centres where evacuees can find food and shelter.
"We would like to thank the outlying communities for their support, it is very much appreciated, we extend our heartfelt appreciation," the administrator wrote.