May 23 at 10 a.m. – Old Smith Highway evacuation lifted; changed to four-hour evacuation alert

This article was updated on May 23 at 10 a.m. We will continue to monitor the situation, if things change updates will happen throughout the weekend. Otherwise, this article will be updated on Friday, May 26 around 4:30 p.m. unless there are major happenings. In the meantime, the most up to day wildfire information is on the Alberta Wildfire Status Dashboard. The Town of Slave Lake will be doing wildfire updates at 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. through Voyent Alert system and Facebook. People can register for Voyent Alert by clicking here. The M.D. of Lesser Slave River has Wildfire Status updates on its website, to go to these click here. 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.

by Pearl Lorentzen – Lakeside Leader / Smoky River Express / South Peace News

The Old Smith Highway evacuation was lifted on Monday, May 22 at 2 p.m.. It is now a four-hour evacuation alert. Residents from the Old Smith Highway from Township Road 715 (Smith Bridge) to Range Road 45 (Tollenaars Bridge) were evacuated from May 18 at 3:40 p.m. to May 22 at 3 p.m.

The following parts of the M.D. of Lesser Slave River are on a four-hour evacuation alert: Old Smith Highway Township Road 715 (Smith Bridge) to Range Road 45 (Tollenaars Bridge), people in and near Smith, Hondo, the Fawcett Lake area, and Mitsue.  For up to date evacuation alerts and order information, visit https://www.alberta.ca/alberta-emergency-alert.aspx

The following communities in the area remain evacuated: East Prairie Métis Settlement, Peavine Metis Settlement, and Town of Swan Hills. Slave Lake is hosting evacuees from Dene Tha’ First Nation, west of High Level.

Potential road closure

People should not travel on Hwy. 33 from Hwy. 2 to south of the Town of Swan Hills. For the latest road conditions visit https://511.alberta.ca/#:Alerts

Smoke

Due to the numerous wildfires in Alberta and British Columbia, smoky conditions will persist. Visit www.firesmoke.ca  to see where the smoke is coming from and to view wildfires on a map, download theAB Wildfire App or visit the Alberta Wildfire Status Dashboard.

Wildfires of note – fire sizes as of May 23

On May 23 at 9:30 a.m., the Alberta Wildfire Status Dashboard said that the Slave Lake Forest Area had nine out of control wildfires, one held, and one under control. East of Muskwa Lake, SWF083 is classified as being held at 33.7 ha.

Saulteaux complex

(SWF085, SWF086 and SWF087) started on May 16 along the railway tracks west of Smith, on the other side of the Athabasca River. The cause is under investigation.

The Saulteaux complex has SWF085, SWF086, and SWF087. These are approximately five km northwest of Smith and 30 km east of Slave Lake. People living in the M.D. of  Lesser Slave River the eastern part of the Old Smith Highway, in and near Smith, Hondo, the Fawcett Lake area, and Mitsue are under a four-hour evacuation order.

As of May 23 at 9:30 a.m., SWF086 (about five km from Smith) was 4,802 ha. SWF085 (middle) was 39.4 ha. SWF087 (around 30 km from Slave Lake) was 1,036 ha.

On Monday, May 22 at 2 p.m., the Slave Lake Area Wildfire Update says, “Yesterday, the wildfire was spreading to the north on the north-northwest end of the wildfire, but it did not move towards Mitsue, Slave Lake, or Smith. Firefighters will concentrate their efforts on this area today to build-up containment lines.”

Grizzly complex – SWF063, SWF057, and SWF064

The Grizzly complex has three wildfires started by lightning on May 4. 

The Grizzly complex is in the Swan Hills. SWF057 26 km south of Kinuso and southwest of Slave Lake was 16,728 hectares (ha).

The May 22 2 p.m. Slave Lake Area wildfire update says, “Good progress was made by firefighting crews yesterday along the Highway 33 corridor.”

As of May 23 at 9:30 a.m., 511 Alberta says, travel was not recommended on Hwy. 33 from Hwy. 2 to south of the Town of Swan Hills.

Over the weekend, SWF063 and SWF064 joined.

As of May 23 at 9:30 a.m., SWF063 was seven km south of High Prairie and 16 km northwest of Swan Hills was 123,670 ha. East Prairie Métis Settlement and the Town of Swan Hills were evacuated because of this wildfire. Sucker Creek First Nation and Big Lakes County were on four-hour evacuation alert.

SWF064 is southwest of SWF063, and not near any communities. As of May 23 at 9:30 a.m., it was 40,060 ha.

Nipisi complex – SWF060

The Nipisi complex was started by lightning on May 4, north and northeast of Utikuma Lake. The complex started out as a few fires, but with fires being put out and the two big ones merging, it is now just SWF060 which is 2.3 km east of the border of Whitefish Lake First Nation. As of May 23 at 9:30 a.m., SWF060 was 43,981 ha.

The May 22 update says, “The southwest end of the wildfire closest to the Whitefish Lake First Nation Community border continued to hold and a sprinkler line has been established north of the community. Most of the wildfire activity was seen on the northwest side of the SWF060 yesterday (May 21).”

Chipewyan Lake – Slave Lake Forest Area

Lightning started SWF081 on May 14 six km north of Chipewyan Lake and Carrot Lake. On May 14 the M.D. of Opportunity ordered the evacuation of the community of Chipewyan Lake May 14 at 9:30 p.m. SWF081 burnt between Chipewyan Lake and Carrot Lake. As of May 23 at 9:30 a.m., SWF081 was 19,499 ha. The community of Chipewyan Lake remains evacuated.

The May 22 update says, “Heavy equipment continues to build fire guard south of the community and the local fire department is working in the community. Wildland firefighters will be setting up a spike camp near the community.”

Kimiwan complex – Peace River Forest Area

SWF068 and PWF038 are the Kimiwan complex. SWF068 is west of Peavine. Peavine Métis Settlement was evacuated because of SWF068. At times last week, Woodland Cree First Nation was on an evacuation alert because of this wildfire. It was unclear from the First Nation’s Facebook page if that was still in effect. However, it was clear that there had not been an evacuation order.

Kimiwan complex is managed by the Peace River Forest Area, the most recent update was from Many 22 at 7 p.m.

On SWF068, the update says, “Wildland firefighters are taking advantage of the weather and reduced fire behaviour to go direct along the fire’s edge, attacking the fire and maximizing suppression efforts. Firefighters continue to work in the north and northwest end of the wildfire extinguishing hotspots. Heavy equipment groups continue to build fire guard around the fire excursion on the west side of the fire, North of the Town of McLennan, southern end of the fire, north of Peavine Metis Settlement, and are working alongside municipal fire services adjacent to the fire to provide structure defense. Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel are working alongside firefighter to extinguish hot spots around the Peavine Metis Settlement.”

It also says, “PWF038 has remained relatively stable, with wildland firefighters patrolling and putting out hotspots to maintain containment lines.” 

For more information on this wildfire go to https://srd.web.alberta.ca/peace-river-area-update

Long Lake wildfire – High Level Forest Area

Slave Lake continues to host evacuees from Dene Tha’ First Nation (Chateh) west of High Level. On May 15, the Long Lake fire High Level Wildfire 036 (HWF036) moved northeast toward Chateh in Dene Tha’ First Nation.

From the High Level Area Wildfire Update publish on May 22 at 6:30 p.m. – HWF036 is classified as out of control (OC) with a last recorded size of 119,597 hectares. With the cooler temperatures and light winds there was minimal fire activity reported today. As of this update this wildfire remains approximately 13 km from the community of Chateh. Firefighters, heavy equipment continued to reinforce the existing fire guard east of the fire, west of the community of Chateh. For more information, go to https://srd.web.alberta.ca/high-level-area-update

Ongoing evacuations – as of May 23 at 10 a.m.

The following wildfire evacuations in the Slave Lake Forest Area were still active as of May 23 at 10 a.m. For the most up to date list, go to Alberta Emergency Alerts.

Alberta Wildfire communicates throughout the day with community governments. Community governments then issue evacuation alerts and orders. So far this wildfires season, Slave Lake Forest Area communities have had time to issue an evacuation alert for people to get ready before issuing an order. Not all alerts have resulted in an evacuation order.

Swan Hills

On May 16 at 3 p.m., the Town of Swan Hills issued an evacuation order. Swan Hills evacuees are to go to Barrhead. This followed an evacuation alert for people to prepare for possible evacuation. People who need help evacuating should call 780-333-4477 extension 8. 

The evacuation is because of Slave Lake Wildfire 063 (SWF063), which when the initial alert was issued was 24 km northwest of Swan Hills. 

As of May 15 in the evening, SWF063 was seven km southeast of High Prairie and 24 km northwest of Swan Hills. It burnt through East Prairie, caused the Big Lakes evacuation and the Sucker Creek alert. By May 19, SWF063 was 16 km northwest of the Town of Swan Hills, but still seven km south of High Prairie.

Dene Tha’

The Dene Tha’ were evacuated because of the Long Lake wildfire – High Level Wildfire 036 (HWF036). As of May 14 at 7 p.m., it was out of control and estimated at 78,400 ha. It was 23 km from Chateh in Dene Tha’. On May 6, Rainbow Lake was evacuated. HWF036 surrounded Rainbow Lake, but hadn’t burnt any structures.
A May 14 High Level Wildfire Update says, “With the extreme fire behaviour yesterday, the wildfire spread significantly north, northwest and east.”

Chipewyan Lake

The Chipewyan Lake evacuation was caused by Slave Lake Forest Area Wildfire 081 (SWF081). It was started by lightning on May 14 north of the Lake. The community of Chip Lake is on the southwest shore of the lake. As of May 15, SWF081 was out of control, estimated at 1,260 ha.

Peavine Métis Settlement

On May 14 mid-morning, Peavine Metis Settlement was evacuated to Falher and Grouard.

Falher FCSS figures there are about 60 to 100 people from Peavine in Falher, living in campers or with friends and family.

For some reason, neither the earlier East Prairie Metis Settlement or Peavine Metis Settlement evacuations are on the Alberta Emergency Alert. All other evacuations are on that system.

East Prairie Metis Settlement

East Prairie Metis Settlement remains evacuated to High Prairie. They were evacuated on May 5.

Evacuation alerts

As of May 18, Sucker Creek First Nation was on a four-hour evacuation alert, which means people living the areas are to be ready to evacuate. The M.D. of Lesser Slave River has issued a four-hour evacuation alert for people (and businesses) on the eastern part of the Old Smith Highway, in and near Smith, Hondo, the Fawcett Lake area, and Mitsue.

Volunteer to help evacuees:

As the wildfire season progresses, Slave Lake may host evacuees again. The Town of Slave Lake asks that anyone who is looking to volunteer to help with evacuees to send an email to volunteers@slavelake.ca and a Volunteer Coordinator will contact you or sign up here.

Fire ban and OHV restriction

As of May 5 and ongoing, both Slave Lake Forest Area and the Town of Slave Lake have a fire ban, including an OHV restriction. Under this fire ban:

All existing Fire Permits are suspended (or cancelled)

No new Fire Permits will be issued

Prohibited:

  • All outdoor wood fires are banned, including wood campfires on public lands, wood campfires on private land and provincial campgrounds
  • Backyard firepits
  • BBQ charcoal briquettes
  • The use of fireworks and exploding targets
  • The recreational use of off-highway vehicles (OHV) on public lands, including designated OHV trails

Allowed:

  • Propane/natural gas-powered appliances
  • Open flame oil devices (e.g., turkey deep fryers, tiki torches)
  • Indoor wood fires contained within a device with a chimney and spark arrestor
  • All appliances must be CSA approved and used per manufacturer’s standards
  • Indigenous people when using an OHV for traditional purposes. Traditional purposes are hunting, fishing, and trapping – including the use of an OHV to travel to the location(s) for these purposes.
  • Essential industry-related activities requiring the use of OHVs.
  • Off-highway vehicle use is still permitted on private lands.

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