More Than 24,500 Are Evacuated as Wildfires Burn in Western Canada
Officials in the western Canadian province of Alberta declared a provincial state of emergency on Saturday after more than 24,500 people had to evacuate their homes because of rampant wildfires.
Premier Danielle Smith, the leader of Alberta’s government, declared the state of emergency at a news conference on Saturday afternoon. “The declaration gives the government greater powers to respond to extreme situations,” she said, adding that it would allow the province to access emergency funds and to mobilize additional support.
The fires have become an “unprecedented crisis,” Ms. Smith said at a separate news conference on Saturday afternoon. “This is a rapidly evolving situation.”
Unusually warm and dry weather has mixed with strong winds, sending the number of active fires across Alberta to 110 on Saturday, up from 78 on Friday morning. Christie Tucker, a spokeswoman for the province’s wildfire agency, said 36 fires were still classified as “out of control” as of Saturday evening. She added that nearly 865,000 acres in the province had burned since the beginning of the year.
In northern Alberta, 20 households, a police station and a water treatment plant were burned in a wildfire in the rural community of Fox Lake, the authorities said on Friday night.
Stephen Lacroix, the managing director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, said on Saturday night that 10 homes elsewhere in the province were lost. “That number could be growing,” he said, but low visibility during overflights made damage assessment nearly impossible.
Communities under evacuation order included Athabasca, Big Lakes, Brazeau, Grande Prairie and Yellowhead Counties and the town of Edson, officials said on Saturday afternoon.
In neighboring British Columbia, the same unseasonably warm weather has caused snowpack to melt rapidly, setting off flooding and mudslides. A number of flood warnings and other advisories were in effect across the province early Saturday.
The wildfire service said on Saturday that it was responding in Prince George to four wildfires of note, meaning those that are highly visible or pose a potential threat to public safety.
In the United States, warm, dry and windy conditions in the Southwest and the Southern Plains were expected to create weather conducive to wildfires over the weekend, the National Weather Service warned in a forecast. More than three million people in that part of the country were under fire-related warnings or watches early Saturday morning.
Wildfires are increasing in size and intensity in the Western United States, and wildfire seasons are growing longer. Recent research has suggested that heat and dryness associated with global warming are major reasons for the increase in bigger and stronger fires.
In Alberta, early spring tends to be the time of greatest risk for wildfires. That is partly because spring snow melt leaves a significant amount of dead grass and other potential fire fuel on the land.
The latest wildfires were some of about 395 recorded in Alberta this year.
“That’s significantly more wildfire activity, for this time of year, than we’ve certainly seen anytime in the recent past,” Ms. Tucker told reporters on Friday.
On Saturday, Ms. Tucker said 200 additional firefighters “working around the clock” would be deployed throughout the province over the next three days.
Alberta’s minister of public safety and emergency services, Mike Ellis, said on Saturday that the province’s “focus right now is protecting human life.”