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Fort McMurray, areas of Northern Alberta on evacuation alert and order due to nearby wildfire

Last Updated May 11, 2024 at 12:14 pm MDT

Evacuation orders and alerts are being issued for residents in areas of northern Alberta, including Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, and Greenview.

The evacuation alert for the entire city of Fort McMurray, as well as the Saprae Creek area, was issued Friday evening and urges people to be ready to leave.

“At this time an evacuation order has not been issued,” reads the notice. “This is an alert for residents in the effected area to be ready to evacuate on short notice.”

Jody Butz, regional fire chief and director of emergency management for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, said in a video update posted on Facebook late Friday that the two communities were not at risk and winds were pushing the wildfire away from Fort McMurray, he said.

Officials said the fire was 16 kilometres southwest of Fort McMurray as of 9 p.m. local time. 

Alberta Wildfire said in the late afternoon that the wildfire was about two square kilometres in size, but by early evening that had grown to 10 square kilometres.

Butz said in the video update that fire behaviour had dropped with lower temperatures, and the spread was expected to slow as temperatures dropped further overnight.

“We expect things to look better tomorrow morning,” he said.

Alberta Wildfire said four crews of wildland firefighters, three helicopters and airtankers were fighting the fire, to be joined by night-vision helicopters overnight.

Fort McMurray has a population of about 68,000. A wildfire there in 2016 destroyed roughly 2,400 homes. 

Meanwhile, an evacuation order also came in for the MD of Greenview Number 16 just after midnight Saturday, asking everyone along the North Goodwin area west of Range Road 21, between Township Road 734 and Township Road 741, to “evacuate now.”

Residents are being asked to head to Paradise Inn at 369 Highway Street in Valleyview. The Alberta Emergency Alert system says they should be prepared to be gone for at least three days.

Later Friday, the County of Grande Prairie issued an evacuation order for an area roughly 50 kilometres northeast of the city of the same name.

Alberta Wildfire estimated an out-of-control blaze there to be about 0.4 square kilometres in size. It said the fire was about four kilometres east of the hamlet of Teepee Creek and burning away from the community.

Evacuees have been told to register at the Pomeroy Hotel and Conference Centre in the city of Grande Prairie.

Smoke billows from the Teepee Creek wildfire in May, 2024.
Smoke billows from the Teepee Creek wildfire in May of 2024. (Courtesy Josh Bourget)

Sexsmith resident Josh Bourget shared photos of the Teepee Creek fire, saying there is now a high-risk air quality alert.

“Initially the wind was blowing the smoke towards the east, but overnight the wind changed and today we are under a high-risk air quality warning,” he said in an email.

“The smoke is so thick we can’t see more than a block or two down the street.”

Environment and Climate Change Canada says wildfire smoke from northeastern British Columbia is causing poor air quality and reduced visibility.

“Conditions are expected to improve over eastern parts of the province tonight while other regions will see some improvement by Sunday afternoon,” meteorologists say.

Smoke billows from the Teepee Creek wildfire in May, 2024.
Smoke billows from the Teepee Creek wildfire in May of 2024. (Courtesy Josh Bourget)

The County of Grande Prairie has also issued an evacuation alert for everyone from Township Road 750 to Township Road 730 and Range Road 32 to Smoky River.

“If you are in the affected area, you must prepare for a possible evacuation. Fuel your vehicles and gather pets, important documents, medications and enough food and water to be away from your home for at least 7 days,” the alert reads.

Residents are being advised to download the Alberta Emergency Alerts app for further updates. People are also being asked to make an emergency plan, prepare an emergency kit, and keep in touch with neighbours to advise each other of future alerts.

Northern Alberta did not see the recent rainfall that the southern part of the province experienced this week, and the wildfire risk in that part of the province remains extreme.

Earlier this week, the federal government said it believed much of Canada will see above-normal temperatures and less precipitation this spring and summer, setting the stage for strong wildfire conditions across the country.

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre reported around 90 fires burning as of noon on Thursday, including 12 classified as being out of control. Of the current fires, 40 were burning in Alberta.

Listen to CityNews 660 for more on this developing story.