Cooler temperatures and light rain brought relief that allowed some wildfire evacuees to return home in Canada’s Alberta province Tuesday, but several blazes were still out of control and a coming sharp rise in the mercury could set back efforts to tame the fires.
Authorities have lifted evacuation orders for a handful of communities after beating back flames, but suffocating smoke still fills the air — carried by winds across the continent as far as the Arctic and the US Atlantic coast.
The number of wildfires that forced 30,000 people to flee in the past four days has fallen from a peak of 110 to 81, with 24 still listed as out of control.
But officials warned that a return to hot and dry conditions was expected by Friday and would persist through the weekend.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith noted that 30,000 hectares in the province are usually consumed by wildfires each year. “We’ve already had 390,000 hectares burned. So it’s already 10 times the typical fire year and we’re really just getting started,” she told reporters.
“It’s an extraordinary (and) unprecedented event, which is I think what we have to be prepared for in future.”
“At the moment, it’s all hands on deck,” she said, noting that more than 700 firefighters are currently deployed and a request has been made for another 1,100 reinforcements from the rest of the country.
Fire chief for the county west of Edmonton, Brian Cornforth, said his crew of over 60 firefighters “are exhausted.”
“We’ve been at this for over a week and this fire keeps (spreading) to new areas.”
He described how a grass fire in the area had spread across 90 kilometers “within a few hours.”
“We need new resources and additional firefighters now,” he told AFP.
“Over the next few days, we’re gonna see it get drier and drier and hotter and hotter, and those two things work against us for firefighting.”