HIGH LEVEL — Evacuated residents of High Level are being told they should expect to be out of their homes for longer than anticipated while the town itself sits deserted under an orange glowing sun shrouded by smoke.
On Wednesday afternoon, officials provided an update inside the town which is being threatened by an out-of-control 92,000-hectare wildfire.
Residents evacuated Monday to reception centres set up in Slave Lake, La Crete, High Prairie, Grande Prairie and Peace River.
High Level Mayor Crystal McAteer stressed that the danger from the wildfire has not passed or is diminished.
“I’m pleading with everyone to be patient and the evacuation of High Level will continue into the foreseeable future. I realize this is not the news that you wanted to hear but it reflects the reality of the uncertainty in our community,” said McAteer.
“It would be irresponsible of town council to do otherwise. So please prepare to be out of your homes longer than you previously anticipated.”
The out-of-control wildfire has been threatening the town of High Level for several days. It has managed to be kept at bay, staying about three kilometres from the town’s border mainly due to favourable wind conditions.
The extreme drought conditions around High Level has created extreme burning conditions, said Scott Elliot, incident commander with Alberta Wildfire. It has made the fire extremely difficult to control.
“One of the things that has been actually helping us prepare the town of High Level is the primary area of spread has been away from town,” said Elliot.
“So despite the aggressive fire behaviour, the fire hasn’t made any aggressive moves toward town. We’ve been experiencing east winds or north winds like today and that has sort of kept the main area of spread of the fire away from the community.”
About 40 minutes outside of Paddle Prairie, located 70 kilometres south of High Level, smoke from the Chuckegg Creek fire blanketed Highway 35, which is a focus of containment for fire crews.
“There’s a chunk of the fire, in the early history of the fire, that jumped across Highway 35 to the east side and that has been an area of focus because typically we can use an existing fuel break on the landscape like a highway as a containment line,” said Elliot.
“Anything that jumps across the highway is of high concern because we’ve lost that opportunity to control the fire at the highway.”
While the thick smoke eventually dissipated once closer to High Level on the highway, a prominent haze stuck close to the ground.
Charred trees and large swathes of burnt grass were on either side of the highway leading into High Level.
Water bombers could be heard as they flew overhead while Atco crews dotted the highway, replacing telephone poles damaged by the fire.
High Level efforts
The late afternoon sun gave the town of High Level an orange glow. The streets of the town with a population of about 4,000 were mostly empty except for emergency services personnel.
There are approximately 110 structural fire fighters in the town with more arriving, said High Level Fire Chief Rodney Schmidt.
Structural protection has been completed along the southwest and north side of town, where trees border the community.
Passing through the town, sprinklers could be seen set up next to the roadway leading to the hospital. Some streets were blocked off with hoses connected to large blow-up pools filled with water. Some houses had propane tanks placed at the end of their driveways.
That’s part of the preventative measures crews are taking , said Schmidt.
“That includes fire smart measures such as removing debris from yards, flammable patio furniture off people’s decks, propane tanks and other flammable materials,” he said.
Fire crews continue to battle the blaze as the hope continues that the winds will remain favourable.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019