Edmonton

Wildfire evacuation order lifted in Parkland County but state of emergency remains in effect

Evacuees of the Parkland County wildfire could return to their homes as early as Saturday after overnight rain helped crews restrain the once fast-moving blaze, the fire chief said.

Fire chief says crews working on re-entry plan with aim for evacuees to return Saturday

The fire had burned through 2,220 hectares as of Saturday, leaving charred trees in its wake. (David Bajer/CBC)

Evacuees of the Parkland County wildfire could return to their homes as early as Saturday after overnight rain helped crews restrain the once fast-moving blaze, the fire chief said.

A mandatory evacuation order was lifted on Saturday morning just after 11 a.m., but the state of local emergency remains in effect. 

Parkland County fire chief Brian Cornforth said crews are working on a re-entry plan with the aim of having some of the 176 registered evacuees return home Saturday.

The fire about 100 kilometres west of Edmonton is not yet under control or fully contained, but imminent danger to people and property was low enough to lift the order, the county said in an update.

Crews welcomed the roughly 10 millimetres of rain overnight as they worked to build a perimeter around the 2,220-hectare fire, Cornforth said. 

"It's not growing right now, but it's not under control," he said. "We still have a lot of unburned fuels in the burnt area, which will ignite from time to time over the next few days." 

The evacuation area was bordered to the west by Highway 22, to the north by Township Road 524, to the east by Range Road 63 and to the south by Township Road 510. 

The fire broke out on Thursday night, quickly spreading to over 1,000 hectares of land and prompting an evacuation order for the area in and around the hamlet of Tomahawk.

Cornforth says about 60 firefighters from across Alberta are now on scene with crews coming from as far as High Level, the site of the 2019 Chuckegg Creek fire that tore through over 350,000 hectares and burned underground for over a year. 

He praised the coordination across fire crews, a level of skill forged over a number of recent devastating and record-setting wildfire years in Alberta. 

"It's like watching a very orchestrated sports event where they know where their players are going to be and where the puck is going to be when it's passed and no one needs to yell or talk, it's just done," Cornforth said. 

The next steps of the firefight will be some of the most physically gruelling, as crews dig into the mossy ground to identify and put out underground hotspots. Firefighters have to be wary of trees that have had their roots burned from underneath them, now susceptible to tipping over in the wind. 

"It's very labour intensive and it's dirty and messy," Cornforth said. 

Brian Cornforth, Parkland County fire chief, says the next stage of firefighting will be gruelling, as crews dig up the mossy ground looking for hidden hot spots. (David Bajer/CBC)

Cornforth implored any evacuees to register in order for emergency crews to maintain contact about re-entry and provide any future disaster relief requests. 

The county does not yet have an inventory of how many homes and buildings have been damaged. 

Roads are limited to local traffic only, with the county asking people to avoid the area for their personal safety and for the safety of fire crews. The utility company was working to restore power Saturday morning. 

"A big shoutout to those folks who we evacuated for their cooperation and their grace for being away from their homes. We understand how inconvenient this was and we thank them for that." 

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