Extreme fire conditions that were anticipated for a blaze that forced the evacuation of the town of Edson didn’t materialize as forecast on Saturday, but officials warned winds could still shift and they urged anyone who stayed behind to get out immediately.
Edson’s chief administrative officer, Christine Beveridge, told a video update on social media on Saturday evening that winds weren’t as strong as forecast earlier in the day, and she said the fire was holding at approximately 1.5 kilometres south of the town’s boundary.
She also said the area got a slight amount of precipitation on Saturday.
“There hasn’t been any property damage in the town of Edson. It hasn’t reached our property line as of yet,” Beveridge said.
Luc Mercier, the chief operating officer of Yellowhead County, also noted during the update that smoke levels weren’t as bad as feared, which could have affected firefighting.
But he said a wind shift was still expected later Saturday night, which had everyone concerned.
“We also have warm weather for the next two to three days at least that we are worried about. The fire is still a very severe danger.”
Sprinkler systems have been set up to protect sensitive areas, he noted, and peace officers are patrolling the town and evacuated areas of the county to prevent looting.
A status update from the province issued earlier Saturday had warned that sustained winds, high temperatures and dry fuels were making firefighting “extremely dangerous” and that a cold front would move into the area bringing gusty, sustained winds from the west which would further challenge firefighters.
“We understand that it’s hard to leave your property but the reality is officials will not be able to help you if this (fire) does turn,” Beveridge warned in an earlier video Saturday.
“It’s Mother Nature and this is a disaster, so we need to make sure that they can do the work that they are here to do rather than trying to help remove residents on a one-on-one basis.”
Edson’s mayor, Kevin Zahara, has called the situation “dire” and said the evacuation order is expected to last until at least Wednesday.
“Don’t expect to be coming back to our community in a day or two. This is going to be in the long haul,” he said earlier Saturday.
Zahara also noted that highways in the area could close, adding to the urgency for anyone remaining in the town to leave.
On Friday evening, government officials said the fire burning near the community of about 8,400 jumped fire guards and moved closer to populated areas, including the town.
It isn’t Edson’s first evacuation this year — everyone in town was forced out for three days in early May because of another wildfire.
The province said that through Friday night, an Australian contingent of firefighters worked with Yellowhead County to patrol and set up structure protection throughout the community of Ansell, located a short distance southwest of Edson.
Buses were still leaving from various evacuation points for anyone who didn’t have their own way out.
The forecast of high temperatures, low humidity and wind were also expected to challenge crews fighting other fires in northern Alberta, including a fire that forced the evacuation of Fort Chipewyan in northeastern Alberta on May 30.
Residents there are still not allowed to return, and the community had some of the worst air quality in the province Friday due to smoke.
A provincial update said the temperature was expected to reach 33 degrees on Saturday in the Fort Chipewyan area with a relative humidity of about 25 percent.