May 6, 2023
This article was updated on June 2 at 3:30 p.m. We will continue to monitor the situation, if things change drastically it will be updated. Otherwise, this article will be updated on Monday, June 12 around 10 a.m. In the meantime, the most up to day wildfire information is on the Alberta Wildfire Status Dashboard. Road closures are available at 511 Alberta. A list of active wildfire evacuations and alerts are Alberta Emergency Alerts. Once a day when the wildfire danger is high, very high, or extreme, Alberta Wildfire publishes Slave Lake Forest Area updates at https://srd.web.alberta.ca/slave-lake-area-update. For Peace River Forest Area updates go to https://srd.web.alberta.ca/peace-river-area-update. Smith, Hondo, and Flatbush are in the Lac La Biche Forest Area for updates go to https://srd.web.alberta.ca/lac-la-biche-area-update.
Pearl Lorentzen Lakeside Leader / Smoky River Express / South Peace News
The week of May 29 to June 4 started with a mixed bag. The final Saulteaux wildfire was being held, but the fire danger had ratcheted back up to extreme. Over the week, the good news outweighed the possibility of wildfire growth. By June 1, the wildfire danger was very high, with the newest wildfire on May 28. On June 2 at 2:30 p.m., the Slave Lake Forest Area had five out of control wildfires, three being held, and one under control.
One ongoing evacuation
As of June 2 at 2:30 p.m., SWF081 was 20,082.8 hectares (ha), the same size as a week earlier. It was started by lightning on May 14 north of Chipewyan Lake. It burnt between Chipewyan Lake and Carrot Lake. The community of Chipewyan Lake was evacuated to Wabasca on May 14. As of June 2, this community remained evacuated. For more information on the Chipewyan Lake wildfire, go to https://srd.web.alberta.ca/fort-mcmurray-area-update
Out of control
he Grizzly wildfires – SWF057, SWF063, and SWF064 – were started by lightning on May 4. They were still out of control as of June 2, but were the same size as a week earlier. They were SWF062 (123,670 ha), SWF057 (16,728 ha), and SWF064 (40,600 ha).
SWF057 was over 30 km southwest of Slave Lake and 26 km south of Kinuso. SWF063 had burnt through East Prairie Métis Settlement and parts of Big Lakes County. It was seven km south of High Prairie and 16 km northwest of Swan Hills. However, it wasn’t threatening any communities and all evacuations had been lifted for a while. South of SWF063, SWF064 wasn’t near any communities. For more information on these wildfires, go to the Slave Lake Forest Area updates at https://srd.web.alberta.ca/slave-lake-area-update
West of Peavine Métis Settlement, SWF068 was started on May 5. The cause is under investigation. As of June 2, it was 122,288.7 ha, having grown from 119,916 ha on May 29. For more information on this wildfire, go to https://srd.web.alberta.ca/peace-river-area-update
Held and under control
As of June 2, three wildfires were being held and one was under control. The week of May 21 to 29, three Slave Lake wildfires were classified as being held, which means they weren’t expected to grow beyond a set area.
On May 29, the third Saulteaux wildfire was classified as being held, just like its neighbours. The M.D. of Lesser Slave River removed eight-hour evacuation alerts for Smith, Hondo, people living in that general area and for Mitsue Industrial Park. On Wednesday, May 31, the smallest Saulteaux wildfire was under control.
As of June 2, the Saulteaux wildfires remained five km northwest of Smith and 30 km east of Slave Lake. They were not expected to grow beyond their current areas, which were SWF086 – 4,742 ha, SWF087 – 1,036 ha, and SWF085 – 39 ha.
The June 1 Slave Lake Area Wildfire Update says, “Structure protection equipment has been removed from the Old Smith Highway, if needed it can be redeployed. Wildland firefighters with water trucks continue to work patrolling for and extinguishing ground fires in the area. Firefighters are working along the wildfire perimeter extinguishing ground fires with pump and hose around residents’ homes along the Old Smith Highway when needed. Heavy equipment has established guard all around the north end of the wildfire boundary.”
All three wildfires started on May 16 and the cause is being investigated.
The Nipisi wildfire is also being held at 43,981 ha. It is 2.3 km east of the border of the Whitefish Lake First Nation. Lightning started it on May 4.
A very busy May
From January 1 to June 1, the Slave Lake Forest Area had 88 wildfires which had burnt 375,879.57 ha.
“We just can’t compare fire seasons,” says Leah Lovequist, wildfire information officer for the Slave Lake Forest Area. This is because each is very different from each other.
That being said, 2023 has been “a very busy spring,” she adds. The Slave Lake Forest Area’s five-year average for a full year is 160 wildfires and 50,000 ha burnt.
In the first two months, April and May, over half this number of wildfires started and much more (about 7.5 times) as many hectares burned as usually happens in a full fire season from April to November. However, May is usually one of the busiest months.
Various factors affect the busy spring, says Lovequist. Last year, from July to the winter, there was little or no rain, which caused drought conditions. Then the snow melted by the middle of April and there was no spring rain until mid-May. The first weeks in May were also extremely hot and windy. Dry lightning is common in May but not usually as early as May 3, she adds.
As of the end May, Lovequist says, “we’re in better shape,” with some rain, but it’s not enough. Therefore, she adds, “we’re going to still be battling wildfires.”
As of May 26 and ongoing, Slave Lake Forest Area and Peace River Forest Area have a fire restriction. For current details on the Forest Area fire restriction, please visit: https://www.albertafirebans.ca/