2023 wildfire updates

May 29 – Rain helped, but big fire suppression job continues

This article was updated on May 29 at 10 a.m. The Leader will continue to monitor the situation, if things change drastically it will be updated. Otherwise, this article will be updated on Friday, June 2. 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

Heavy rain over the long weekend and on Tuesday, May 23 helped firefighters get a handle on the Slave Lake Forest Area wildfires. Some evacuation orders were lifted. On May 26, the Town of Slave Lake and the Slave Lake Forest Area downgraded their fire bans to fire restrictions. The forest area lifted the OHV restriction. As of May 28, the fire danger in the area was high.

Evacuations lifted

On May 22, May 24, and May 25, evacuations orders were lifted for communities in the area.

The first lifted was also the newest, having been was issued on May 18. The Old Smith Highway evacuation was lifted on Monday, May 22 at 2 p.m. It was changed to a four-hour evacuation alert. By May 23, all evacuation alerts for the M.D. of Lesser Slave River were downgraded to eight hours. This applied to all residents along Old Smith Highway from Township Road 715 (Smith Bridge) to Range Road 45 (Tollenaar Bridge), all residents in Hondo, the hamlet of Smith, and all properties between. It also includes Fawcett Lake Resort, Broken Paddle and all residents between Fawcett Lake and the Smith bridge on Township Road 715, and Mitsue Industrial Park.

On Wednesday, May 24, two more evacuation orders were lifted in the Slave Lake Forest Area. These were for Swan Hills and East Prairie Métis Settlement. Those communities were put on four-hour evacuation alerts.

On May 25 at 1 p.m., Peavine Métis Settlement lifted its evacuation. They were put on a four to six-hour evacuation alert.

Ongoing evacuations

The Chipewyan Lake wildfire SWF081 was 20,082 hectares (ha) as of May 29. On May 14, lightning started this fire and Chipewyan Lake was evacuated to Wabasca. Chipewyan Lake remains evacuated.

“We really don’t know how long,” said Chad Tullis, M.D of Opportunity CAO on May 26, “but they’re here for at least a week, if not longer.”

The evacuation is still on alberta.ca/emergency.aspx. However, it isn’t on the Alberta Emergency Alert website and app.

Tullis isn’t sure why, it was no longer on Emergency Alert, but it might have to do with the evacuation being over 12 days and road blocks in place.

For more information on the Chipewyan Lake wildfire, go to https://srd.web.alberta.ca/fort-mcmurray-area-update

Other wildfires of note

From May 20 to May 29, there were no new wildfires in the Slave Lake Forest Area. As of May 29 at 8 a.m., the forest area had six out of control wildfires, three being held, and one under control. The three being held were SWF060 2.3 km east of Whitefish Lake First Nation and the two smaller Saulteaux wildfires between Smith and Slave Lake.

SWF060 started by lightning on May 4 north of Utikuma Lake. From May 5 to 12, Whitefish was evacuated to Slave Lake. As of May 26, SWF060 was an estimated 43,981 ha and not expected to grow.

The Saulteaux complex has three wildfires – SWF085, SWF086, and SFW087. It is about five miles northwest of Smith and 30 km east of Slave Lake. They started near the train tracks and the cause is being investigated.

The Leader reached out to CN Rail about these wildfires.

In response, Julien Bédard, media relations advisor, says, “Safety is a core value at CN and during the wildfire season, we make sure to strictly follow regulations and our protocols when operating in dry conditions.”

One of these is “increasing patrols that precede and follow trains to inspect for any potential issues and for any sign of fire,” he adds.

CN has also supported the firefighting effort.

As of May 29, SWF086 was out of control and an estimated 4,742 ha. The other two were smaller and being held. SWF085 was 39.4 ha and SWF087 was 1,036 ha.

The Grizzly complex has three fires, started by lightning on May 4. As of May 29, all three were burning out of control.

SWF057 was 27 km south of Kinuso and over 30 km southwest of Slave Lake. As of May 29, it was 16,728 ha. The largest SWF063 was seven km from High Prairie and 16 km northwest of Swan Hills. As of May 29, it was 123,670 ha. SWF064 is southwest of SWF063 not near any communities. SWF064 was 40,060.

SWF068 started on May 5 west of Peavine. The cause is being investigated. As of May 29, it was 119,916 ha. For more information on Slave Lake Forest Area wildfires, go to https://srd.web.alberta.ca/slave-lake-area-update

SWF068 started on May 5 west of Peavine. The cause is being investigated. As of May 29, it was 119,916 ha. For more information on this wildfire go to https://srd.web.alberta.ca/peace-river-area-update

Municipal firefighters and peace officers after long days and nights fighting wildfires on the Old Smith Highway on May 22. These firefighters are from Flatbush, Smith, Slave Lake, Widewater, Minburn, Onoway, and Killam. They had been protecting buildings and fighting hot spots near the road. Wildland firefighters, heavy equipment operators, CN Railway staff, and aircraft are also fighting these fires.
A Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service’s social media post says, “They are tired and need a shower, but they are still smiling! We are so thankful for this dedicated group that have put their lives on hold, some who have also been evacuated, to help in which ever way they can.”
Photo courtesy of the Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service.

Fire restriction

As of May 26 and ongoing, both Slave Lake Forest Area and the Town of Slave Lake have a fire restriction. For current, details on the Forest Area fire restriction, please visit: https://www.albertafirebans.ca/

The Town of Slave Lake Fire Restriction is as follows:

  • Safe wood campfires in a designated campground
  • Safe wood campfires on private land
  • Safe wood campfires in backyard fire pits
  • Charcoal briquette BBQ’s
  • Indoor wood fire
  • Propane/natural gas powered appliances
  • Open flame oil devices

The following is prohibited under the Fire Restriction:

  • All burn permits are suspended
  • Safe wood campfires on public lands
  • Fireworks
  • Exploding targets

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