Devastated Slave Lake

Fires Still Raging Around Devastated Slave Lake

May 17th 2011 – 7:58AM

CBC News

More than 100 forest fires continued to burn across Alberta Tuesday – 36 of them out of control, including three around the already almost half-destroyed town of Slave Lake.

Scores of firefighters were being sent to the Slave Lake area Tuesday from across Canada in hopes of getting the blazes under control and saving the rest of the town. All of its 7,000 residents have left under a mandatory evacuation order.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, who toured the area Monday, couldn’t say precisely when people would be allowed to return, but people in the shelters were being told it would be at least three or four days before they get back to the town to see what is left. Stelmach said the province is doing what it can to save the community.

“I know it’s difficult,” he said, “because everybody’s really concerned about their home and whether it was damaged or burnt to the ground and whether it’s salvageable.”

The entire town, located 250 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, was evacuated Sunday when wind-whipped wildfires suddenly turned and blazed through town, destroying more than a third of its homes, along with the town hall and government centre.

By Monday night, the fire east of Slave Lake had consumed about 20 square kilometres, while the blaze south of the community had burned 150 square kilometres.

British Columbia was reported to be sending 120 firefighters and Ontario another 80.

House still standing

Slave Lake occupies 14.2 square kilometres on the eastern end of Lesser Slave Lake. A provincial park of the same name is just a short drive away.

Jaqueline Robinson, who was one of the last people to leave Slave Lake, spent Monday night with her children at a shelter in the Westlock, Alta., community hall, one of three shelters set up by the provincial government.

“It was like something off a movie,” she told CBC News. “It was creepy. We went and checked just to see, just to make sure our house was still up. So far, it’s still up.”

Winds continued to blow lightly overnight Tuesday from the east-southeast, pushing smoke all the way up to Peace River and Fort Smith. Yellowknife was reporting smoky conditions. The wind was expected to increase to 40 or 50 km/h by afternoon, with a possibility of rain, CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said.

There is some rain in the forecast from Tuesday through to Thursday, but not enough to make much of a difference to firefighters, she said.

On Sunday and Monday, winds enabled the fire suddenly to jump two highways in a matter of an hour, Wagstaffe said. “They were gusting about 20 kilometres per hour from the east, and in an hour switched to the southeast and picked up to 40 kilometres per hour. Then continually increasing throughout the day up to 90 kilometres per hour.

“But it was that shift and rapid increase that basically tilted the flames almost on [their] side, so that the fire that was burning on one side of the highway was able to catch the brush on the other side of the highway. [It was] basically like dropping a match in a haystack, and it went up from there.”

By Monday night, officials in Westlock described the amount of donations as “overwhelming” and they asked people to hold off for at least a day until they could assess what they have received.

Cash and cheque donations are still being accepted at the Westlock Community Hall and Town Office.

People who wish to help can also make donations through the Canadian Red Cross.

Filed under: Canada

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