Wildfire crews conduct a controlled burn ignition operation on Wednesday May 22, 2019, approximately three kilometres southwest of High Level where about 4,000 residence were evacuated from the Chuckegg Creek fire.
Ed Kaiser / Postmedia, file
Wind conditions in northwest Alberta Tuesday assisted firefighters combating the Chuckegg fire while causing poor air quality in the region.Victoria Ostendorf, wildfire information officer for the High Level area, said the winds coming out of the southwest were helping firefighters.“The wind has actually been in our favour and allowed us to make great progress,” said Ostendorf, “We also had an inversion this morning, so that traps the cold air from the warm air above which actually does aid fire activity and decreases it a bit.”Officials had warned changing wind this week could test containment barriers around Highway 35 and Highway 58 built through controlled burns conducted the week before.While helping firefighters, the Tuesday winds also pushed smoke into the area causing Environment Canada to issue an air quality statement for High Level, Rainbow Lake, and Fort Vermilion.The statement warned that smoky conditions could lead to coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath and asked people to stay inside with air conditioning if possible.Children, seniors and those with lung conditions such as asthma are most susceptible to the symptoms which may lead to increased medication and visits to the doctor, the statement read.That smoke did bring a silver lining as Ostendorf said it acted as a large cloud decreasing fire activity and allowing firefighters to safely continue to build up barriers on the fire’s perimeter.The out-of-control wildfire has grown to 130,000 hectares in size with the main spread away from the community, said an update posted to Alberta wildfire’s website Tuesday morning. Approximately 4,470 evacuees from the area have registered at evacuation centres.An update from the Government of Alberta earlier this week said Grade 12 students displaced by the fires are eligible to exempt their diploma exams. If a student exempts their test their classroom mark will be their final mark. Grades 6 and 9 students writing provincial achievement tests can also be excused. If they can make it to a school safely, they can still write their exams.Mayor Crystal McAteer has remained optimistic throughout the evacuation, saying it is only a matter of time before evacuees can come home. Yesterday she said that return could come as early as the weekend if everything goes right.The town’s best chance of rainfall will come Saturday night, according to forecasts from Environment Canada which call for a 60 per cent chance of showers.Meanwhile, mandatory evacuation for Steen River has been issued for a second wildfire that has sprung up about six kilometres west of Hwy. 35 near Steen River.According to Alberta Wildfire, this fire is 400 hectares in size and has closed Hwy. 35 seven kilometres north of Steen River due to smoke.Those in the Steen River area have been told to leave the area and head south on Hwy. 35 to the Heritage Centre in La Crete.EVACUATION UPDATE: Mackenzie County wildfire has crossed HWY 35 north of Steen River. Everyone in Steen River area must leave the area and head south on Hwy 35 to the Heritage Centre in La Crete. For more info follow @AB_EmerAlert. #abfire— Alberta Government (@YourAlberta) May 29, 2019No travel is permitted between High Level and Enterprise, NWT.Steen River is about 146 kilometres north of High Level.—With files from Anna Junkerdshort@postmedia.com