Canada wildfires trigger state of emergency in Alberta

Oil-producing province battles dozens of out-of-control blazes as 25,000 forced to flee

Smoke fills the sky from a wildfire near Fox Creek, one of more than 100 blazes raging in Canada's Alberta province. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Canada’s province of Alberta declared a state of emergency over wildfires that have forced 25,000 people to flee their homes and created what a top official said was an “unprecedented” crisis.

Thousands more have been told to be prepared to leave at a moment's notice as the number of fires, fanned by strong winds, jumped to 110 on Saturday.

A third of the blazes were listed as out of control.

“We've declared a provincial state of emergency to protect the safety, health and welfare of Albertans,” the province's Premier Danielle Smith said after a meeting of her government's emergency management committee.

Earlier she said the province, one of the world's largest oil-producing regions, “has been experiencing a hot, dry spring and with so much kindling, all it takes is a few sparks to ignite some truly frightening wildfires”.

“These conditions have resulted in the unprecedented situation our province is facing today,” she said.

According to Ms Smith, more than 20 communities have been evacuated and at least 122,000 hectares burnt so far.

She said the state of emergency declaration gave the provincial government “greater powers to respond to extreme situations”, including mobilising additional resources and unlocking emergency funds.

Almost all of Alberta, which is in the midst of an election, and much of neighbouring Saskatchewan province as well as a large swathe of the Northwest Territories, face extreme fire risks, according to a federal government fire danger map.

Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair tweeted that Ottawa stood ready to provide federal assistance, if needed.

Oil sands facilities were closely monitoring the dangers, but none have reported production disruptions.

Drayton Valley, a community of 7,000 about 140km west of Edmonton, was among the areas evacuated as firefighters battled an out-of-control blaze.

Some 550km north of the provincial capital, a severe fire consumed 20 homes, a general store and a police station in the community of Fox Lake.

Residents were evacuated by boat and helicopter.

In the town of Edson, which has a population of more than 8,000, residents were ordered to “evacuate immediately”.

In recent years, western Canada has been hit repeatedly by extreme weather, the intensity and frequency of which have increased due to global warming.

Forest fires in Canada's oil sands region in 2016 disrupted production and forced out 100,000 residents from Fort McMurray, pummelling the nation's economy.

More recently in 2021, the westernmost British Columbia province suffered record-high temperatures over the summer that killed more than 500 people, as well as wildfires that destroyed an entire town.

That was followed by devastating floods and mudslides.

Updated: May 07, 2023, 6:42 AM