Smoke moved along Highway 35 in High Level Sunday where about 4,000 residents were evacuated from the town site due too the Chuckegg Creek wildfire.
Ed Kaiser / Postmedia
The Town of High Level and Dene Tha’ First Nation are cautiously preparing for evacuees to return to the municipality this weekend after thousands evacuated more than a week ago due to an out of control wildfire in the area.About 5,000 people had to evacuate the northern Alberta town and the surrounding area on May 20 due to the Chuckegg Creek wildfire that has now grown to about 127,000 hectares.High Level Mayor Crystal McAteer told reporters Monday afternoon that, while the fire continues to pose a danger, it is not currently threatening the town. The town is working with provincial officials to create a re-entry plan for residents.“First of all, we need to make sure the essential businesses are in town, the hospital is up and running, the air quality is good and then the other businesses would come to town because we can’t have people in here with no food, no medical help or things like that,” said McAteer.However, McAteer said because conditions are constantly changing, it’s not guaranteed residents will be back as soon as this weekend and is asking evacuees to be patient.“Everything is uncertain here because it’s dry, it’s so dry,” she said. “We don’t want people to hang their hat there in case things change.” Chief James Ahnassay of the Dene Tha’ First Nation, located about 200 kilometres west of High Level, said it’s been a “very trying past week” but safety is of the utmost importance.“When people do return back home after everything’s all over, we want everybody to remain very much alert and very much do prevention, like keeping away from using ATVs and off-road vehicles,” said Ahnassay. Meanwhile, forestry company Tolko said in a news release Monday its High Level employees will receive a one-time $1,000 lump-sum payment to aid them during the wildfire evacuation period.The funding will help employees and their families “until they can access emergency support, provincial government or Red Cross funding assistance, or avail of employment insurance,” the company said.Funds will be deposited into employees’ bank accounts on Friday.‘Extreme fire behaviour has not been alleviated’Scott Elliot, incident commander with Alberta Wildfire, said they faced extreme fire burning conditions over the weekend, particularly north of Highway 58 and west of Highway 35. However, preventative work firefighters completed last week has held.“We’re continuing to consolidate the lines around the town, putting out existing hot spots,”said Elliot.“The weather has not co-operated in any way. We’re still experiencing hot, dry, windy conditions and the threat of extreme fire behaviour has not been alleviated.”Although the fire has grown by 20,000 hectares, it has not spread into High Level or towards the town in any significant way.Elliot said primarily the fire grew just north of Highway 58 and across the entire western flank.“We lost a little bit of line in the very southwest piece but no major losses in the very critical areas.”Elliot said the extreme fire behaviour has not changed and is not expected to until there is a change in weather.About 400 firefighters and 28 helicopters are in place to battle the blaze.Trout Lake on evacuation noticeMeanwhile, a new fire started Sunday 14 kilometres south of Trout Lake. An evacuation alert was issued for Peerless Trout First Nation, telling residents to be prepared to evacuate on short notice.Intense behaviour of the fire in the Slave Lake forest area significantly reduced overnight due to increasing humidity which held the fire from expanding, Alberta Wildfire information officer Leah Lovequist said Monday afternoon.The fire is out of control and about 300 hectares in size, according to Alberta Wildfire. Three air tanker groups and five helicopters are battling the wildfire.Trout Lake is about 500 km north of Edmonton.— With files from Dustin Cookajunker@postmedia.comTwitter.com/JunkerAnna