Officials report progress on Alberta wildfires as many evacuees return home
EDMONTON — Officials in Alberta say there has been significant progress in the fight against wildfires in the province due to rain, cooler weather and the efforts of firefighters.
Several evacuated communities have announced re-entry plans this week while others are preparing for residents to return.
That includes the Shiningbank area of Yellowhead County, the Town of Swan Hills, Fox Creek and the municipal district of Lesser Slave River.
Alberta remains under a provincial state of emergency and there are 11 evacuation orders still in place.
An estimated 7,243 people remain displaced from their homes.
The Edmonton reception centre closed Tuesday and the one in Calgary will be ceasing operations this afternoon, but eight other reception centres remain open for affected areas.
Mental health resources are also available for people affected by the wildfires.
Bre Hutchinson, executive director of provincial operations with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, says some communities are still under threat from wildfires and local officials need to make sure critical infrastructure has been restored before people can return home.
"We know that all evacuees want to get home as quickly as possible," she said during a news conference Wednesday. "Emergency officials are working hard to fight these fires but the situation is extremely challenging and safety is always their top priority."
There were 65 wildfires burning in Alberta by Wednesday afternoon, 17 of which were out of control. So far this year, 521 wildfires have burned more than 10,310 square kilometres of land in the province.
Christie Tucker with Alberta Wildfire said the province is welcoming a Hercules air tanker from California on Wednesday, which has the capacity to hold more than 11,350 litres of water. This week, 25 firefighters from New Zealand and nearly 200 from Australia are also expected to arrive in Alberta to help fight the wildfires.
"The season isn't over," Tucker said. "We're planning for what will be needed over the coming months to extinguish the large, complex wildfires that we've had this year."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2023.
The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version stated that 325 firefighters from New Zealand are expected to arrive in Alberta this week. In fact, the number is 25.