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Wildfires lead to Alberta declaring state of emergency

Alberta is now under a state of emergency.

Premier Danielle Smith declared the emergency state on Saturday, May 6, following the growth of wildfires across the province.

“We’ve declared a provincial state of emergency to protect the safety, health and welfare of Albertans,” she said.

The state of emergency, said Smith, would give the province greater powers to respond to extreme situations.

“This is not a step that we took lightly, but it’s one that will allow the quickest and most effective response.”

The status of Alberta’s Emergency Coordination Center has also been moved up from level three to four.

That level triggers a mandatory full Government of Alberta coordination to address the emergency.

Stephen Lacroix, managing director, Alberta Emergency Management Agency, said that the agency was in the process of working to set up social services for wildfire evacuees in Calgary.

“Our social services are setting up shop in Calgary and we will be ready to deliver more services to folks who choose to go to Calgary to receive the services,” he said.

He acknowledged that evacuees travelling to Jasper were being asked to travel to further towns such as Banff, or Calgary, due to wildfires causing issues with the delivery of power to that town.

Smith said that Minister of Public Safety Mike Ellis had been in contact with his federal counterpart, Minister for Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair, and that the federal government was ready to provide support to the province.

Minister Ellis said that the Alberta operations centre was in contact with the federal government.

Smith said she would be seeking to speak to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about getting resources for Alberta.

“I am hoping to be able to schedule a call with the prime minister in the next day or so, and building a list of things that we’ll be able to ask for,” Ellis said.

The latest information on the extent of wildfires in Alberta can be found at www.alberta.ca/wildfire-status.aspx.

Fluid and dangerous situation

Wildfires have led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of Albertans over previous days, and for local municipalities and counties to declare their own states of emergency.

As of Saturday evening, that number was more than 24,000 according to the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.

Stephen Lacroix, managing director, Alberta Emergency Management Agency said that assessing the amount of property damage was problematic, given the extent of smoke preventing accurate assessments from overflights.

“As an example, we’ve had overflight over Fox Lake yesterday, and it is impossible to actually have a detailed assessment of what the extent of the damages were.”

As of 5 p.m., according to the Alberta Government’s wildfire status dashboard, there were 110 active fires in the province, with 37 of those out of control, and 22 being held.

Over 352,000 hectares have been burnt by wildfires since January 1.

The Brazeau County, Country of Grande Prairie, MD of Greenview, Parkland County, and the Town of Drayton Valley are among the municipalities and counties that have declared a state of local emergency.

Alberta Wildfire has asked that recreational drone users cease flying near wildfires, as they’re inhibiting firefighting operations.

“That can be incredibly dangerous for firefighters and for those pilots who are flying the area and can inhibit our ability to fight those fires,” said Christie Tucker, information unit manager, Alberta Wildfire.

“We’re asking people who may fly recreational drones in the vicinity of a wildfire stop immediately and allow pilots and firefighters to do their job.”