Pearl Lorentzen

Lakeside Leader

From May 5 to 12, Slave Lake hosted evacuees from Whitefish Lake First Nation. On May 14, around 700 evacuees from Dene Tha’ First Nation west of High Level were expected to arrive in Slave Lake. On May 14 at 9:33 p.m., Chipewyan Lake north of Wabasca was evacuated to Wabasca. These communities were threatened by different wildfires.

On May 14, prior to the Chipewyan Lake evacuation, 14 Alberta communities were evacuated because of wildfires. Another eight were on evacuation alert.

Along with the Chipewyan evacuation on May 15, the Slave Lake Forest Area had two evacuations orders and one alert. East Prairie Métis Settlement remained under evacuation. It was evacuated to High Prairie on May 5. Atikameg in Whitefish Lake First Nation was on evacuation alert.

As of May 15, the Slave Lake Forest Area had seven out-of-control fires, two being held, and four under control.

The May 14 wildfire update didn’t include the Chipewyan Lake wildfire. From January 1 to May 14, there had been 78 wildfires in the Slave Lake Forest Area which burnt 158,040.57 hectares (ha). This was 32,538.86 ha more than on May 7.

As of May 15, none of the out of control wildfire were close to Slave Lake or Wabasca, or threatening any M.D. of Lesser Slave River communities.

Dene Tha’
The Dene Tha’ were evacuated because of the Long Lake wildfire – High Level Wildfire 036 (HWF036). As of May 14 at 7 p.m., it was out of control and estimated at 78,400 ha. It was 23 km from Chateh in Dene Tha’. On May 6, Rainbow Lake was evacuated. HWF036 surrounded Rainbow Lake, but hadn’t burnt any structures.

A May 14 High Level Wildfire Update says, “With the extreme fire behaviour yesterday, the wildfire spread significantly north, northwest and east.”

Chipewyan Lake
The Chipewyan Lake evacuation was caused by Slave Lake Forest Area Wildfire 081 (SFW081). It was started by lightning on May 14 north of the Lake. The community of Chip Lake is on the southwest shore of the lake. As of May 15, SFW081 was out of control, estimated at 1,260 ha.

Seven out of control wildfires
May 8 to 14 started off cool and damp, but heated up on the weekend. No major wildfires started May 8 to 13, but one did on May 14. By May 9 and throughout the week, all highways were open, but Hwy. 33 from Hwy. 2 to Swan Hills was down to 50 km speed limit because of smoke.

As of May 15, with the extreme wildfire danger, all seven of the Slave Lake Forest Area wildfires are of note.

SWF081 was the only one of the seven that started in the last week. The others all started on May 4 and 5. The Nipisi and Grizzly complex wildfires were started on May 4 by lightning. The cause of the SWF068 west of Peavine Métis Settlement is under investigation.

The Nipisi wildfire complex was SWF060 and SWF059. SWF060 was 16,680 ha and 2.3 km east of Whitefish Lake FN border. This was the fire which caused the Whitefish evacuation and the reason for the alert. SWF059 was north of SWF060, at 1,036 ha. It wasn’t near any communities.

The most recent Slave Lake Wildfire Update from May 14 at 11 a.m. says, “As a result of the hot and windy conditions an increase in fire behaviour and growth towards the north and east occurred on the Nipisi Complex wildfires yesterday.”

This movement was away from Whitefish.

SWF063, SWF057, and SWF064 are the Grizzly complex.

The May 14 update says, “the hot, dry conditions resulted in increased fire behaviour across all wildfires in the Grizzly complex. ”

SWF063 burnt through East Prairie Métis Settlement on May 5 and 6.

SWF063 burned 27 homes and a bridge in East Prairie, says a Global News article. Of these, 14 were people’s homes.

By May 7, SWF063 had stopped growing seven km southeast of High Prairie. As of May 15, it hadn’t gotten any closer to the town. It was 69,074 ha.

As of May 15, SWF057 was 8,136 ha. It was about 26 km south of Swan River First Nation and over 30 km southwest of Slave Lake. It didn’t jump Hwy. 33, but caused Hwy. 33 to have a 50 km speed limit.

SWF064 was in the Swan Hills and not near any communities. As of May 15, it was 22,220 ha.

SWF068 started west of Peavine Métis Settlement on May 5. It grew northwest into the Peace River Forest Area. As of May 15, SWF068 was 38,716 ha.

Whitefish evacuation
Slave Lake hosted wildfire evacuees from Whitefish from May 5 to 12.

Slave Lake hosted approximately 600 evacuees, says Jason Swanson, Town of Slave Lake manager of communications and economic development.

Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre runs the food bank and has a second hand store. It helped the evacuees with food, clothing, and other support.

A Friendship Centre social media post on May 10 at 8 a.m., says it had 196 applications and helped 544 evacuees.

Evacuees should bring their pets. However, not all pets can stay with the owners. Therefore Slave Lake housed pets at the pound and at the MRC. Evacuees could visit their pets twice a day.

Town of Slave Lake Councillor Kim Hughes organized the around 20 volunteers who cared for these pets.

The number of pets varied, she says, but they usually had around 30 pets, mostly dogs and a few cats.

Fire ban
As of May 15, the fire danger in the Slave Lake Forest Area is extreme.

Slave Lake Forest Area and Town of Slave Lake have a fire ban. The forest area also has an OHV restriction on public land. People are never allowed to drive OHVs in the Town of Slave Lake.