Officials say wildfire evacuees in northwestern Alberta should not expect to return until at least next week and that provincial emergency funds for gas, food and other expenses should be available by Monday.
About 5,000 people in High Level and surrounding communities have been out of their homes since the long weekend, as the Chuckegg Creek fire rages three kilometres outside the town. As of Friday, the blaze covered nearly 993 square kilometres.
Winds from the northeast were blowing the fire away from the community. But Shane Schreiber with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency said they’re expected to switch direction on Sunday.
Schreiber told reporters the earliest evacuees could return is Tuesday, but it will probably be longer.
“The fire will have to progress to the point where it will no longer pose an imminent threat to the community,” he said Friday.
Firefighters have completed successful controlled burns and bulldozed containment lines to remove fuel for the blaze.
Within the town, sprinklers are at the ready and flammable debris has been removed.
“We are not out of the woods. We are watching the weather very, very closely this weekend,” said Alberta Wildfire spokeswoman Christie Tucker.
“We’ve taken advantage of an even keel of weather for the past few days in order to get some good work done. So that when the wind does change direction, hopefully we’ll be able to fight it as well as we can.”
Alberta’s municipal affairs minister said emergency funds should be available to the fire evacuees by Monday.
Kaycee Madu said every adult will get $1,250 with another $500 for each dependent child. Evacuees from the Fort McMurray fire in 2016 and the Slave Lake fire in 2011 got the same amount.
“We know this is a stressful time for you. You have been away from your homes for several days now,” Madu said. “And that is tremendously difficult physically, mentally, emotionally and financially.”
Evacuees can start applying for electronic transfers at noon on Sunday, but it may take a day for funds to appear in their accounts, Madu said. Pre-loaded debit cards for those unable to receive e-transfers can be picked up at reception centres on Monday.
High Level mayor Crystal McAteer had urged the provincial government to move quickly on emergency aid because vulnerable people were without funds.
“We’re not as affluent as other communities and some of our most vulnerable people are out there right now without funds,” she said Thursday.
Firefighters from British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories and Prince Edward Island have arrived to help fight the Chuckegg fire and others burning in Alberta. More are arriving Friday from Ontario, Tucker said.
There are now 360 wildland firefighters in the bush, while 154 are in the town working to protect buildings there.
The Canadian Press