Alberta wildfire forces thousands from homes, threatens High Level community

Nearly 600 people are doing battle with a wildfire that is threatening the now empty town of High Level in northern Alberta. Photo courtesy of Jeruel Cantada.

By Thomas I. Likness in Edmonton
& Marvi Abellera in Slave Lake, Alberta
EBC Edmonton Bureau

(Eagle News) – More bad news for residents of the northern Alberta community of High Level in western Canada which is threatened by a wildfire.

An Alberta government agency said a shift in wind direction could push the blaze even closer to the town.

The fire remains out of control. It is only three kilometres from the town limits.

Alberta Wildfire said close to 600 people are battling the blaze with support coming from 28 helicopters, eight air tankers and 46 pieces of heavy equipment.

The latest development means it will be a while longer before about 5,000 people who were forced from their homes can return and sleep in their own beds.

Residents have gone to other communities where they have been living in hotels and evacuation centres, or with friends and relatives ever since.

Many of those people took refuge in the town of Slave Lake, nearly six hours away.

One of them, Richard King, who is originally from the Philippines, said it was a frightening experience.

“It’s my first time,” King said. “I haven’t experienced this in the Philippines so we’re panicking.”

Troy Clement echoed those thoughts, saying it was tough on the family.

“It was pretty scary,” Clement said. “You know kids, pets they don’t take as well … they can’t deal with it as well as us.”

Waldemar Ritzke says the inferno surrounding the town left him feeling uneasy and uncertain about the future.

“I was frightened. Of course if you get evacuated you don’t think very good,” said Ritzke. “I thought the town could be compromised and who knows if I’ll ever come back.”

“If I do, where would my home be,” Ritzke added.

Brian Vance, Slave Lake’s chief administrative officer, has been putting in long days making sure those who fled the fire are cared for.

Vance said so far they have not had to use the evacuation centre.

“We have booked hotels for all of the evacuees in Slave Lake,” said Vance.

But if more people came, Vance said they have up to 1,200 beds at the town’s recreation centre.

Vance said as well as lodging, the evacuees other needs are being met.

“We are making sure they have food,” said Vance. “We provided food vouchers the first day and now we have the food truck with the Salvation Army.”

The town also has kits with toothpaste, soap and shampoo for those who need them.

The Alberta government is giving evacuees money to cover their expenses as well.

The weather in High Level remains hot and dry with no rain forecast in the near future.

The fate of the town hinges on the wind, which firefighters hope will not fan the flames any further and push the blaze closer to the town.

Out of control wildfire forces 5,000 people to flee their homes in northern Alberta town of High Level. Photo courtesy of Jeruel Cantada.
A wildfire in Alberta burns dangerously close to the northern Alberta community of High Level. Photo courtesy of Jeruel Cantada.

(Eagle News Service)