Evacuation order issued for Fort Chipewyan, Alta., due to wildfire

Residents of Fort Chipewyan are being evacuated from their homes because of a wildfire that sparked in northern Alberta over the weekend.

Residents had been advised to be ready to leave at short notice earlier Tuesday

An aerial view of the community of Fort Chipewyan.
An evacuation alert — which is not an order — was issued Tuesday morning by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo for Fort Chipewyan, pictured above, in northeast Alberta. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Pres)

Residents of Fort Chipewyan are being evacuated from their homes because of a wildfire that sparked in northern Alberta over the weekend.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB), Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation and Fort Chipewyan Métis Nation issued a joint evacuation order Tuesday evening as the blaze continues to grow just 13 kilometres from the community.

Air transportation to Fort McMurray and temporary accommodations in Fort McMurray and Fort McKay are being arranged.

The evacuation is set to be done in stages with priority placed on vulnerable and elderly people.

It will begin in Allison Bay, the nearest community to the wildfire boundary. About 135 people live in the community, just east of Fort Chipewyan.

The order says limited flights are available for the remainder of Tuesday but the majority of people will be transported starting Wednesday.

Wood Buffalo, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Mikisew Cree First Nation have all declared a state of local emergency.

Alberta Wildfire information unit manager Christie Tucker said during a Tuesday afternoon update before the evacuation order that the fire was reported to be 300 hectares not long after it was spotted Sunday, and it's since grown to 3,000 hectares.

"It is our No.1 priority because of the proximity to the community there, and the fact that it did spring up quite quickly and quite close to the community."

Fort Chipewyan is about 300 kilometres northeast of Fort McMurray, and about 1,000 people live there.

Tucker said three crews are working on the fire, with six helicopters dropping water and two air tanker groups circling continuously. Officials are also moving more resources into the area.

But she said it's not especially surprising to see a wildfire grow so fast, considering the hot and dry conditions in northern Alberta, which didn't get the kind of precipitation that helped dampen fires in other parts of the province.

There are currently 62 wildfires across Alberta's forest protection zones, and 19 of those are out of control. About 3,500 people remain on evacuation orders.

Communities on alert

Vulnerable people were already being moved out of Fort Chipewyan, according to an RMWB alert earlier in the day

Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro said in a video posted to his Facebook page Tuesday morning that the community of Allison Bay, which is one of several within the First Nation, would be evacuated. 

"From what we've been told, the fire is six kilometres, now, from Allison Bay," Tuccaro said. "Sprinklers are being set up now around the community."

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam and Fort Chipewyan Métis president Kendrick Cardinal have also been sharing online updates.

"We do not have to panic here in Fort Chip," Adam said. "We urge the people to be prepared."

Cardinal added that more supports are arriving to help the community.

"We've brought in more bylaw, we've brought in more RCMP, [emergency social services] crews to be able to support our community in what's going on, to keep everybody calm, to give people direction," he said.

"I just want to say remain calm — don't get overwhelmed. Everything is in place."

Tuesday's evacuation alert triggered an emergency message that was heard on CBC Radio in parts of the North just after 10:30 a.m. MT, but that alert failed to mention what community it was for, and did not properly pronounce the word "evacuate."

The wildfire, according to Alberta's wildfire dashboard, was started by a lightning strike. It's currently considered out of control.