By Kelly Geraldine Malone and Ritika Dubey
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stopped in Edmonton on Monday to meet with military personnel who are helping fight wildfires in Alberta that worsened under the weekend heat.
Trudeau was given an overview of the fires at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton and, along with federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, was briefed about the weather forecast and threats from rising temperatures and dryness.
About 300 soldiers are being deployed across the province to help with the fires, which have forced thousands to flee their homes and rural properties.
Some reservists dressed in yellow jumpsuits and bright blue safety helmets trudged through charred forest near Drayton Valley over the weekend.
Working along firefighters, they used tools, shovels and water to put out smouldering trees and hot spots. Photos of the operation show members in smoky forests with burnt-out vehicles.
Adam Norris was dousing his property near Drayton Valley with water Monday morning, more than a week after fire torched his farm and land. A house, garage, vehicles, animals and irreplaceable family items were lost.
“(I’m) running on a lot of coffee and adrenalin,” Norris said as he continued to fight hot spots that flared up under the weekend’s heat.
Officials warn rising temperatures that have been a problem for crews battling fires in the province’s north have also become a concern in the south.
Josee St-Onge of Alberta Wildfire said conditions in the south aren’t as extreme, but the province may need to move resources so it can be ready to respond quickly to new fires.
St-Onge said Sunday that fire crews were in the Rocky Mountain and Calgary forests in the south and could be bolstered with resources from the north or from outside the province.
The number of evacuees in Alberta grew to more than 19,300 Sunday, with 23 of 86 active wildfires considered out of control as of Monday morning.
Crews have made great progress battling the fire threatening Brazeau County southwest of Edmonton, which includes the town of Drayton Valley, the county said Monday.
“Today will again be hot and dry, but crews continue to extinguish hot spots near residential homes,” it said in a statement.
More than 200 people are working on the fire line, the county said, adding heat scans were used to identify hot spots.
Norris said he knows many neighbours and other community members are eager to return to their homes. But it’s just not safe.
“There’s some incredibly scary places that are still lighting up here,” he said.
Members of the Little Red River Cree Nation in northern Alberta, which has been under an evacuation order for nearly two weeks, are struggling, said Darryel Sowan, the community’s emergency management communications co-ordinator.
There has been significant damage, homes are destroyed and the wildfire remains out of control.
“(The) community is dealing as best as they could under the circumstances, but (everyone) wants to go home of course,” Sowan said in an email.
Wildfires have also been a concern in Alberta’s neighbouring jurisdictions.
Parts of B.C.’s Peace River region remain under evacuation orders. In the southern N.W.T., the K’atl’odeeche First Nation ordered an evacuation Sunday afternoon.
And in Saskatchewan, a wildfire near the northern community of Buffalo Narrows has prompted a state of emergency. Some residents are leaving because the smoke is affecting their health and the power is out.
The fires in the west have caused smoke to drift as far east as Ontario. Environment Canada has issued air quality statements for northern Saskatchewan, Manitoba and into northwestern Ontario.
The department said people with lung or heart disease, older adults, children, pregnant people and people who work outdoors are at higher risk of experiencing health effects caused by wildfire smoke.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2023. With files from Emily Blake in Yellowknife This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.