Alberta evacuee numbers nearly double in last 24 hours due to wildfires

Another 4,500 people were forced from their homes over the last 24 hours due to smoke from fires in northern Alberta, government officials said Thursday.

“These smoke impacts have created a significant increase in evacuees,” said Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen.

“We began the day yesterday with approximately 5,500 evacuees and we currently have over 10,000.”

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen speaks at a government update on the wildfire situation in northern Alberta Thursday. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

The Chuckegg Creek fire, which forced people to leave High Level is moving at an alarmingly fast rate, is not even slowing in the overnight hours.

“It travelled about 30 kilometres south yesterday between noon and four o’clock this morning, which means it was travelling at a rate of about 23 metres a minute,” said Christie Tucker from Alberta Wildfire.

Dry, windy conditions and low humidity have made conditions challenging for firefighters over the last 24 hours.

Tucker said the fire moved across Highway 35 to Paddle Prairie and also jumped the Peace River, which is about 700 metres wide.

Two fires — Maria Lake and MacMillan Complex —in the Slave Lake area are growing and moving closer together.

The town of Slave Lake is now on an eight-hour evacuation alert, meaning people should be ready to leave if they are given eight hours notice.

Evacuations also expanded in Mackenzie and Northern Lights Counties on Wednesday and Thursday

Fire officials are still trying to confirm reports from Paddle Prairie residents that homes were lost due to fire.

The provincial operations centre has moved from a response level three to a four since Wednesday. That means representatives of every government department are now joined by federal and industry representatives like ATCO and CN Rail. 

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