OMAHA (DTN) -- Officials in Alberta want residents to keep their guard up and avoid activities which could create fires. Higher temperatures this weekend will continue to keep the risk of wildfires high.
Colin Blair, executive director of Alberta Emergency Management Agency, was asked during a press conference Thursday if Alberta's ranchers can access their lands affected by wildfires to care for their livestock. He urged Alberta livestock producers to get into contact with local authorities. Some ranchers are already missing so it is important to be careful and work with the local officials, he stressed.
Mike Ellis, Alberta Minister of Safety and Emergency Services, said it is a stressful time for many Albertans. High temperatures are expected this weekend which will only elevate the risk of more wildfires in the province.
Christie Tucker, information unit manager with Alberta Wildfire, said during a press conference on Thursday that 82 active wildfires remain burning in the province, with 23 fires burning out of control. As of Saturday morning, there were 83 active fires, with more than 26% of them out of control, according to the Alberta Wildfire Status website, increasing the number of wildfires for the year to 443. (https://www.arcgis.com/…).
By Thursday, nearly 426 wildfires had burnt 433,000 hectares (1.06 million acres) in Alberta this year, she said. About 1,500 people are working on putting the fires out with 284 firefighters from outside of the province helping.
Blair reported 16,470 people have been evacuated in the areas with wildfires. This number is down from the high of 31,000 people a few days before, he noted. There are 15 evacuee reception centers which people who have been forced from their homes can go to and stay. Blair urged people to add the Alberta Emergency app to their phones.
"Do not return to your homes unless you are told to do," Blair said.
He reminded residents to be careful with their outdoor activities so more fires will not start.
"Don't let your guard down," Ellis said.
As of Saturday, almost 69% of the fires were still under investigation, but about 19% were determined to be caused by humans and around 12% by lightning.
The weekend continues to see Environment Canada issue special air quality bulletins as wildfire smoke is causing poor air quality and reduced visibility in some areas.
The wildfires have also closed many schools in Alberta. Ellis said 68 schools were closed at one point during the fires and 40 schools have reopened, leaving 28 schools still closed.
At one point, just under 14,000 students were not in school, he said. With some schools reopening, roughly about 6,000 students are still not in class.
Ellis said many areas are still without power and natural gas. Local authorities are working with utility companies to restore these service as fast as possible.
Wildfires in Alberta have been influenced by drought conditions and high temperatures that have hit Western Canada. Analyzing the latest Canada Drought Monitor released this week, DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said the total agricultural land in the Canadian Prairies that is in some form of drought sits at 78% for the end of April, compared to 83% last month, only a slight improvement. A section of Severe Drought (D2) was indicated for western Saskatchewan through a large section of central Alberta.
Baranick said there has been some drought improvement: Precipitation has been more consistent there in recent weeks and into early May. During the past week, isolated showers have been prevalent daily across a lot of Alberta. Showers have not been overly widespread, but where they developed, there was significant precipitation mostly in the range of 10-20 millimeters (0.4 to 0.8 inches) in total so far.
However, the forecast for hotter and drier conditions will lead to an increased risk of fires spreading, Baranick warned, adding that those could be exacerbated by increased winds. (See more details on the Canadian Prairies drought and weather forecast at https://www.dtnpf.com/….)
People who wish to help can make cash donations through the Canadian Red Cross 2023 Alberta Fires Appeal at https://www.redcross.ca/…
The Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta has announced they will each match every dollar donated to the Canadian Red Cross 2023 Alberta Fires Appeal, so every $1 donated will become $3 to support those affected by the wildfires.
Russ Quinn can be reached at Russ.Quinn@dtn.com
Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN
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