Minister McQueen tours northern wildfires

Minister McQueen on wildfire tour

ESRD Minister, Diana McQueen with Associate Minister and Peace River MLA, Frank Oberle, and Patrick Loewen, Manager of Wildfire Compliance and Investigation, travelling to the fire area near La Crete.

Minister McQueen and Associate Minister Human Services, Frank Oberle, took flight today to observe first hand the many wildfires burning in Northern Alberta.

The day started early with a briefing on the wildfires burning in the Peace Area.  So far this year, 70 wildfires have burned 6,124.27 hectares. 

Patrick Loewen, ESRD’s Manager of Wildfire Compliance and Investigations briefed Minister McQueen and staff on the high priority fires that are currently burning, including PWF 068, located 100 km NW of the Town of Manning in the Hotchkiss area.  Extreme fire behaviour and sporadic wind directions have made it unsafe to deploy ground crews.  An incident command team are working hard to set up a fire camp, helicopters and tankers are dropping water on the fire, and 14 dozers are working to build a dozer guard.  No homes or communities are threatened.

The next stop was to meet with the incident commander in Le Crete, where Minister McQueen was briefed on the fires and process to fight wildfires. Incident infrastructure (camp, trailer, power, water, communications) can be set up anywhere in province within 24 hrs.

Bill Neufeld, Reeve of Mackenzie County in La Crete explained that they’re experiencing the driest conditions in 30 years.  Two large wildfires in the area has forced a local state of emergency to be declared for the Wilson Praire area, and for Zama City, where residents were evacuated earlier this week due to extreme smoke conditions.  More than 300 residents are being taken care of at the High Level evacuation centre.

Albertans across the province are battling smoky conditions as smoke drifts from Northern Alberta.  Individuals with breathing difficulties or chest discomfort should consult their physicians.  Those with respiratory conditions, like asthma or COPD, should remain indoors, keep windows closed, and limit strenuous activity.  Visit www.airquality.alberta.ca to see the latest Air Quality Health Index information for your community.  Residents with respiratory concerns can contact Health Link Alberta to speak to a registered nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week, toll-free at 1-866-408-LINK (5465).

Interesting fact: while recent fires are lightning caused, the majority of fires in the province this year have been caused by humans.  There have been 681 human caused wildfires this year and 108 caused by lightning.  But lighting season is just starting.

On an average year, 50 per cent of the wildfires are human caused … and preventable.   Properly extinguish your campfire by soaking it, stirring it, and soaking it again.  If you’re out on your OHV, remove burnable debris from hot spots like the engine and exhaust, use a functional muffler and spark arrestors.

If you spot a wildfire, call 310-FIRE (3473).

Keep up-to-date on Alberta’s wildfire situation by following Alberta Wildfire Info on Facebook, or @ABGovWildfire on Twitter.

Minister McQueen and Bill Neufeld

Minister McQueen with Bill Neufeld, Reeve of Mackenzie County

Minister McQueen at La Crete fire centre

Minister McQueen getting briefed at the La Crete fire operation centre.

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