The province has taken a match to its old wildfire record.
Alberta Wildfire has estimated that more than 1.4 million ha have already burned during the current wildfire season. This beats the old record of 1.357 million ha that was set in 1981.
The record also extends across the country.
“This now qualifies, unfortunately, as Canada’s worst wildfire season of the 21st century,” said Bill Blair, federal minister of Emergency Preparedness, during a Monday press conference where he announced that more than 4.7 million hectares of land have been scorched.
Part of Alberta’s new record comes courtesy of EWF031, the wildfire that was caused by lightning and detected on May 4. Classified as out of control, it is now located 1.5 kilometres south of Edson and is estimated to be nearly 205,000 ha in size. That area increased more than 70,000 ha in size in a week.
“We’ve got our fire crews working 24 hours a day; that’s starting today,” said Edson’s chief administrative officer Christine Beveridge during a daily update on Tuesday at noon.
“What that means is that the guards and the fire protection, they’re focusing on the heads of the fire, especially on that finger south of Edson that is very close to our border. Just to note, of course, the fire still remains out of control and is very close to our community.”
There was some good news, she added, in that there were no new fires that had started since Monday’s update.
According to the Alberta Wildfire Status Dashboard, there were 78 active wildfires on Tuesday, 24 of which were out of control. Three of those out-of-control wildfires are in the Edson Forest Area: the Pembina Wildfire Complex (which is comprised of EWF031 and three other wildfires), the Deep Creek Wildfire Complex (EWF035, WCU001, and WCU002 wildfires) and EWF040.
There are 238 firefighters and 65 support staff working on the Pembina Complex with 67 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 helicopters. The Town of Edson and Yellowhead County have integrated as a structure protection branch within the larger effort, sending 101 structure protection personnel.
The more than 8,000 residents of Edson and Yellowhead County were put under a mandatory evacuation order on Friday. They started this week expecting the order to remain in place until at least Wednesday.
Much of the battle depends on the weather. A mixed-blessing rain front moved through Jasper and Yellowhead County on Tuesday, bringing some much-needed precipitation. It also brought the possibility of thunderstorms, and with them, lightning.
Jasperites received intermittent notices warning of the risk of an extended power outage. On Sunday, that risk had decreased, according to a bulletin from AltaLink.
“The fire did not progress toward our transmission line feeding these areas as anticipated, and wind conditions have shifted the direction of the fire. We do have other lines that have been impacted. We’re working to assess the damage and prioritize restoration efforts where it’s safe for our crews to work,” read the statement.
The advisory encouraged people to stay informed with the latest updates by visiting www.alberta.ca/emergency.aspx.
The current tally for wildfires this year is now at 634 – an increase of 44 since last week – with 375 of those suspected to be caused by humans.
Approximately 5,000 foreign firefighting personnel are now in active service across Canada, with several hundred more expected to arrive from Europe and Central and South America this week.
In Jasper National Park, the wildfire danger rating was at “extreme” as of Tuesday afternoon. On June 9, a fire ban was put into effect for all day use areas, picnic sites, backcountry campgrounds and unsupervised frontcountry campgrounds.
By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jun 14, 2023