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Thousands flee Alberta town after wildfire

SLAVE LAKE, Alta. -- Thousands of people were fleeing their homes Sunday evening as strong winds fanned an out-of-control wildfire into a northern Alberta town where hundreds of buildings were destroyed.

SLAVE LAKE, Alta. -- Thousands of people were fleeing their homes Sunday evening as strong winds fanned an out-of-control wildfire into a northern Alberta town where hundreds of buildings were destroyed.

The Town of Slave Lake advised the community of about 7,000 people to protect themselves from the wildfire by heading for parking lots, beaches or large, green open spaces.

A general evacuation was under way.

"The town is on fire. Apparently, there have been a lot of homes that have burned down," said Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokeswoman Doris Stapleton.

"There's been no loss of life. There's been no injuries we're aware of," she added.


Authorities warned residents to not try to flee on the highways since they were closed.

Stapleton said the RCMP have called in all available resources to assist in getting people out.

Staff Sgt. Mike Proctor of Slave Lake RCMP said later "probably 30 percent of the structures" had been destroyed by the fire.

He said when the fire hit the town, it was 3½ square miles in size.

Although Proctor said two roads leading out of Slave Lake are closed, residents can get out through the road leading to Athabasca.

He said the mandatory evacuation was proceeding "as smoothly as it can go."

Local radio station 92.7 Lake FM reported on its website that its studio in Slave Lake, as well as the city hall and hundreds of buildings had been lost to the flames.

Duncan MacDonnell, a spokesperson for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, said firefighting aircraft cannot fly over Slave Lake because there are wind gusts of up to 65 mph and the smoke is too thick.


"The weather conditions there are freakish -- the perfect conditions for a firestorm," MacDonnell said.

The province said equipment and about 200 firefighters from British Columbia and Ontario are expected to arrive by Tuesday to help Alberta with its fires.

Slave Lake had declared a state of local emergency earlier Sunday and was taking in evacuees from surrounding communities.

Getting out of town on Sunday evening wasn't easy, according to one Slave Lake resident, who said the lineup of vehicles was long.

"It's crazy," said Scott, who didn't want his last name used. "We've seen a whole lot of vehicles go to the west and then get redirected back to the east."

He said the lineup to head east on Highway 2 stretched so far that it was several miles to the west of the town. So, he said he was staying put in a parking lot to conserve gas until it was absolutely necessary.

"As long as my family and I am here, we're safe," he said, noting a black cloud covered the town.

Crews had been working since Saturday to fight two separate fires near the town, but they continued to burn out of control on Sunday due to strong winds and warm, dry conditions.


Close to 900 people living in the rural district near Slave Lake had been told earlier on Sunday to be ready to leave their homes at short notice and were later ordered out. Another 270 had already fled another fire east of the town which destroyed four homes, as well as a number of sheds and recreational vehicles.

Atco Electric confirmed it was experiencing problems in the area because the fires were damaging transmission lines.

Numerous other blazes burned throughout Alberta on the weekend.

A wildfire near Peace River forced cleanup operations at the site of a huge oil pipeline spill last month to be suspended. Plains Midstream Canada, the pipeline operator, said the decision to remove their staff was made after county officials issued an evacuation order Sunday morning.

The company said it had also shut the flow on its Rainbow pipeline, which carries crude from its Nipisi terminal to Edmonton, as a precaution.

A fire on Saturday that forced the evacuation of Crimson Lake Provincial Park, which is about 150 km southwest of Edmonton, has now been contained and people have been allowed to return. The fire burned about 123 acres.

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