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Rain forecast could slow down record-breaking Alberta wildfires, officials say

EDMONTON — Light rainfall and cooler temperatures slowed down wildfire activity in Alberta over the long weekend and more rain that's in the forecast may help firefighters catch a breath during a record-breaking season of fires.
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University Bridge is photographed through thick smoke from wildfires burning across the Prairies, in Saskatoon on Saturday, May 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Heywood Yu

EDMONTON — Light rainfall and cooler temperatures slowed down wildfire activity in Alberta over the long weekend and more rain that's in the forecast may help firefighters catch a breath during a record-breaking season of fires.

"This could be a turning point for the firefighters working out there on the fires," Christie Tucker of Alberta Wildfire said during a news conference Monday.

"We have received rain, I understand, on almost every wildfire that's currently burning in the province except those in the far north."

She delivered the hopeful message while also telling reporters that 2023 has been the most active spring for fires on record with 945,000 hectares burned, surpassing 615,000 in 2019.

Cooler temperatures and rain were forecast to continue Tuesday, she noted.

Bre Hutchinson, executive director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, told the news conference the fire danger remains very high to extreme in northern Alberta, and high to very high along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

More than 10,000 Albertans remain evacuated from their homes.

"Despite the forecast, it is important for all Albertans to remain vigilant, especially those that live in areas that remain under evacuation alert," Hutchinson said.

Progress continues to fight stubborn fires like the one that forced the evacuation of the East Prairie Metis Settlement, where dozens of structures have been reported destroyed.

Tucker said 56 firefighters and four heavy equipment groups have been working to control the blaze, which has burned nearly 93,000 hectares.

Provincewide, she said, there are nearly 2,900 firefighters and support staff from 17 different agencies battling the flames. That includes 100 additional Canadian troops who joined another 300 soldiers this weekend, who've been engaged in fire suppression activities like dousing hot spots.

Tucker said requests by the province were still in with partner agencies for additional firefighting assistance, because the large fires will not be extinguished after only a few days of rain.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we need to plan ahead to continue to fight these large-scale wildfires."

Smoke from the fires continued to pose challenges Monday for event organizers and anyone with breathing problems. In Calgary, a pre-season CFL game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Edmonton Elks was postponed for half an hour, in part to allow additional time for air-quality monitoring.

In Edmonton, the city announced an evacuation centre that opened earlier this month for people fleeing fires in Drayton Valley and Brazeau County would close on Tuesday as the wildfire threat in those areas eases.

"Good neighbours look after each other and that’s what we did," city manager Andre Corbould said in a news release.

The release noted that, since the centre opened on May 5, more than 10,000 meals were served, about 275 sleeping cots were made available, and hotel bookings were arranged for more than 500 households.

It also said 336 pets were registered at the evacuation centre.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2023.

Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press





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