A firefighter carries an axe to battle northwest Alberta wildfires near the town of High Level on Friday, May 24, 2019.
Chris Schwarz / Supplied
The Chuckegg Creek wildfire that forced thousands of people from their northern Alberta homes has officially been classified as “‘being held” after burning out of control for months.“It’s taken a lot of hard work, a lot of different people — everyone from our firefighters on the ground to the extreme hard work of pilots’ countless hours of bucketing on hot spots to contractors to heavy equipment operators to everyone that makes the whole wheel turn,” said Victoria Ostendorf, wildfire information officer for the High Level area.The change in status means the fire is not expected to grow outside of its expected boundaries under current weather conditions. Ostendorf said firefighters will now work inwards on the fire to extinguish hot spots.Chuckegg’s last recorded size came Friday at 350,134 hectares with a perimeter of 630 kilometres. In comparison, the wildfire nicknamed The Beast that ravaged Fort McMurray in 2016 was 589,552 hectares in size and burned for more than 15 months. “The time from when Chuckegg was discovered to when it was classified as being held is one of the longest periods between those two that we’ve seen. I believe the Fort McMurray wildfire was about a month and 16 days. We’re over two months with this one,” said Travis Fairweather, wildfire information officer with Alberta Wildfire.Fairweather said large wildfires could be the new norm in Alberta, saying the province in recent years moved the official start of wildfire season in the province to March 1 from April 1.“Certainly that is the trend we’ve been seeing over the last few years and that’s sort of what we’re expecting and preparing for moving forward,” said Fairweather. “In terms of number of fires we’ve had, it’s actually pretty average … It’s when you start talking about the area that’s been burned where I believe this is the second highest we’ve had since 1981 in terms of total area that’s been burned.”Fairweather said more than 863,000 hectares of forest has burned in Alberta this year. Last year a total of 45,000 hectares was destroyed by wildfire. Wildfire experts have previously said both climate change and previous forest suppression efforts have contributed to the increase in wildfire fire damage.The Chuckegg wildfire forced residents from their homes in High Level, Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement, Dene Tha’ First Nation, and Mackenzie County at different times throughout the spring and early parts of the summer, destroying more than a dozen homes in Paddle Prairie.
Chuckegg Creek wildfire is burning out of control in the High Level Forest Area, to the southwest and west of the town of High Level on May 19, 2019.
The Metis community 700 kilometres north of Edmonton lifted a three-week-long evacuation order in June. Greg Calliou, Paddle Prairie’s chairman, said the community is still learning to adapt to the lost homes and destroyed forest around the community.“It’s a big learning process, we’ve never been through disaster before,” said Calliou. “People are still staying with friends and families, some are still staying at hotels so we haven’t returned back to normal yet.”With Chuckegg now being held, Ostendorf said crews are not out of the woods yet, saying the fire could still take a turn for the worse if weather conditions worsen.“It takes a long time to put out a forest fire, especially one of this size,” said Ostendorf. “Given the current and forecast weather and the fact that we’re still working at it we hope to see an under control status at some point.”Fairweather said there is a possibility the fire could continue to burn throughout the winter and flare up next spring.The public can stay up to date on the wildfires by visiting the Alberta Wildfire website or downloading the Alberta Wildfire mobile firstname.lastname@example.org