Thousands flee northern Alberta wildfire: ‘People are really scared’

Thousands of people living in northern Alberta have been forced out of their homes because of an out-of-control wildfire burning near Fox Lake, about 800 kilometres north of Edmonton.

The fire, located near Fox Lake, was last recorded at nearly 4,400 hectares in size as of Thursday, but the intense fire activity and smoke has made it hard to accurately gauge the size, according to Alberta Wildfire.

Areas started evacuating Wednesday afternoon but by Thursday, the situation was dire. The only way in and out of Little Red River Cree Nation is a small barge. A line of 600 people was waiting to cross the Peace River at its busiest moment, according to Chief Conroy Sewepagaham.

Around 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Sewepagaham said the barge was close to being burned and said all workers helping to evacuate residents needed to leave.

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An hour later, he posted a plea to social media for those with boats to cross the river and help bring about 100 remaining residents to safety. Sewepagaham said a “skeleton crew” was working to rescue the remaining residents.

RCMP vehicles with two boats were also seen in the area.

Click to play video: 'Convoy of Drayton Valley evacuees flee wildfire'

Convoy of Drayton Valley evacuees flee wildfire

Overnight Thursday and into Friday morning, residents from areas that had been evacuated — Fox Lake and Little Red River Cree Nation — were arriving at the High Level Sports Complex.

Bill Schnarr, spokesperson for High Level, said the evacuees are being welcomed by High Level residents.

“We’ve had a lot of people coming in steadily over the past two days,” Schnarr said.

“This is something that happens just about annually up here for the town of High Level so we’ve gotten quite good at it over the years and we’re just happy to be able to help our neighbours.”

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Click to play video: 'Wildfire evacuation orders issued across Alberta'

Wildfire evacuation orders issued across Alberta

In a provincial wildfire update issued just before 7:30 p.m. on Thursday night, the Alberta government said three wildfires continue to burn in the Fox Lake area and threaten the community of Fox Lake.

“At the time of this report, 20 households, the police station and the Northern Store have been lost,” the government said, adding transmission lines have been destroyed.

“A reception centre has opened at the Fox Lake Band Office.”

Shane Noskaye, a Fox Lake resident, said the community is lost right now.

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“At least half the community is gone I believe, that’s what we’re saying and I believe that was the chief’s main speech — the statement was given earlier this evening,” he said.

Noskaye called the evacuation “scary and intense.”

“Everybody had to jump in the barge. Boats were also assisting the evacuation and boats were called out this evening and some are still out there right now, trying to look for people.”

More to come.

Click to play video: 'Northern Alberta residents flee wildfire to High Level'

Northern Alberta residents flee wildfire to High Level

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