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Alberta, Saskatchewan communities battle wildfires fuelled by high wind

October 18, 2017 2:43 AM
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Alberta, Saskatchewan communities battle wildfires fuelled by high wind

Communities issue evacuation orders as fire and smoke spread

A growing number of communities in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan are issuing evacuation orders as wildfires spread in gusting winds.

The town of Leader, roughly 85 kilometres southwest of Kindersley, Sask., is among the communities being evacuated from the southwestern area of the province due to a fire burning near the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. The town of more than 800 residents has declared a local state of emergency.

Residents of the nearby communities of Burstall and Liebenthal are also being asked to leave their homes. Burstall residents have reportedly evacuated to either Kindersley, to the north, or Fox Valley, to the south, according to a Saskatchewan provincial government spokesperson.

According to the province of Saskatchewan, a rapid response team has been dispatched to assist local fire departments with fighting the fire and evacuating the area.

The area is currently under a wind warning, with gusts of 90 to 100 km/h expected into Tuesday night, according to Environment Canada.

SaskEnergy has above-ground facilities in the Burstall area and is sending technicians to see if they are at risk from the fire, according to a Saskatchewan provincial government spokesperson.

The Crown corporation's South Bayhurst station west of the community is being monitored by an operator, she said.

SaskEnergy's regional office in Swift Current is also sending technicians to the region to check on the facilities.

Jackie Penny, who farms north of Burstall, said she was driving toward the town to help fight the fire when she was forced to turn around.

"It just enveloped the sun. You couldn't even see the sun in some spots, and there were leaves flying and tumbleweeds. It was crazy," she said. "I've never seen anything like that in my life."

Burstall's deputy mayor David Pidlisny said there was heavy smoke on the south side of the town when he spoke to CBC News early Tuesday afternoon.

"But it is moving rapidly and it's unknown whether it will reach the town or bypass the town," he said. "It depends on wind direction."

Just before 1 p.m. MT, Redcliff RCMP were informed of the grassfire burning on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

RCMP and Cypress County fire crews are on the scene. Highway 41 has been closed due to the fire and extreme smoke.

Residents of the village of Hilda, which is about 50 kilometres northeast of Medicine Hat, Alta., have been advised to prepare to evacuate.

A fast-moving fire hundreds of kilometres away in southwestern Alberta is burning out of control, whipped up by strong winds. Residents on the western edge of Coleman are being told to evacuate.

The Alberta Emergency Management Agency said the fire is burning in the area between the Sentinel Industrial Park and Coleman, but is moving quickly.

"Everyone on Willow Drive must evacuate immediately," reads an alert from the agency. "Everyone else in Coleman should be prepared to evacuate on short notice. This wildfire is quickly moving east being driven by the strong winds that are blowing east."

Blair Painter, the mayor of Crowsnest Pass, which includes Coleman, said the evacuation could affect 200 to 250 homes.

A southeast Airdrie neighbourhood was also placed under a sudden evacuation order Tuesday afternoon as a grass fire whipped up by strong winds raced toward homes.

RCMP said in a release the evacuation of the Sharp Hill community was ordered as flames approached "at a high rate of speed."

Rocky View County said all residents have been safely evacuated to Genesis Place and that one home has been destroyed by the fire.

"A massive response from Rocky View County and Airdrie fire services now has most of the fire under control, although the flare-up of hot spots is still a concern," reads a statement from the county.

"At this time, there is no timeframe for residents to return to their homes."

Residents living in and around Gleichen and Carseland in southeast Alberta are being evacuated as wildfires close in.

An Alberta Emergency Alert warns those living in areas surrounding Carseland and Gleichen to go to reception centres in Strathmore — at the Strathmore Civic Centre — or in Standard — at the Standard Community Hall.


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