Emergency fuel arrives in Meander River as residents prepare to flee Alberta wildfires

As a forest fire rages west of High Level, Alta., residents of Meander River have been without power for two days, threatening frozen food and complicating evacuation plans.

Northern Alberta community is under voluntary evacuation order, but escape delayed after 2 days without power

Vehicles lineup for gas in Meander River, Alta., Tuesday, where a fuel truck was sent up. The community hasn’t had power to run gas station pumps for two days. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

Fuel arrived Tuesday by tanker truck in Meander River, Alta., as many families prepare to evacuate from wildfires in the region.

Some may have left earlier, but there was a problem — the gas station has been without electricity to run the gas pumps.

Meander River — a small community about 120 kilometres south of the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories — has been without power or cell phone service for two days.

The community is under a voluntary evacuation order because of a forest fire that rages out of control just of west of High Level, Alta., about 45 minutes south. High Level is also under an evacuation order.

In Meander River, residents had been waiting for a generator to run the gas station pump so they could fuel up for the three-hour drive north to an evacuee centre in Hay River, N.W.T.  Tuesday, a fuel tanker arrived instead.

On May 21, David Cardinal and his family anxiously prepare to heed a voluntary evacuation order and leave Meander River, Alta. about 80 km north of High Level. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

David Cardinal lives in Meander River. Earlier Tuesday he was preparing to leave with his children in a small car, but said he'd have to leave the family dog behind. He believed he had enough gas to make it one way.

Cardinal said the past two days have been "hectic and unpredictable" in the community as they wait for decisions to be made about where they're to go, and what they're to do.

"Not knowing what's going to be coming … just waiting and wondering … you're waiting for some people to make the decision," he said.

'Got to go'

As of Wednesday evening, Alberta Fire reported that the wildfire near High Level, Alta., remained out of control and had burned 80,000 hectares. (Deb Stecyk)

Cardinal said that while they waited for fuel, food in some home freezers is going bad after two days without power.

Although "there's [a] few that have generators, fifth-wheels, whatever," in town, most don't have a backup power source, Cardinal said. 

"So those people are really going through hardships right now because their food is spoiling."

Cardinal said some people from his community with breathing problems have already left. He's happy someone had the foresight to make those arrangements, but as fuel pumps stood idle with no power, he questions how prepared "higher ups" really were.

Even with fuel in the community again, Cardinal said there are many without vehicles and no means of escape.

"Everybody's got to be prepared and I figure the higher ups got to be quicker at decision making," he said.

"There should be … an emergency escape plan in process as we speak. This should have been way before planned in case disasters like this ever happened."

Ernest Yatsallie, also in Meander River, says he has to get his daughter to Grimshaw, Alta., for dialysis treatment. With detours now in place, he faces a five-and-half-hour drive.

"I was supposed to leave yesterday, but the road is closed," he said. "I got to go, no matter what."

Written by Walter Strong, based on reporting by Hilary Bird.