EDSON, Alta. — A town in western Alberta was under an evacuation order late Friday due to an out-of-control wildfire — its second such order this spring.
Local officials issued the evacuation for Edson and parts of Yellowhead County.
"We're still evacuating the community and evacuating the hospital," said Edson mayor Kevin Zahara.
"All things considered, so far so good — but the next 72 hours are going to be critical for us. We have a lot of warm temperatures in the forecast and it's windy here right now.
"It's going to be dependent on those winds and the weather on how this fire behaves."
Alberta government officials said the fire burning near the community of about 8,400 jumped fire guards and moved closer to populated areas, including the town. They warned that there could be impacts to roads and highways if the fire crossed the guards and blocks evacuation routes.
"Because that fire is so out of control, some of the forestry crews have had to back off," said Luc Mercier, chief administrative officer for Yellowhead County, in a video statement on one of the town's Facebook pages. "They can't fight that fire."
Mercier said the fire could threaten Highway 16, the main east-west route in the area.
"We have significant concerns with egress along Highway 16 in the coming days," he said. "The next 36 hours will be paramount with the winds coming forward."
An update issued at 11 p.m. said live embers and flames were seen in Willmore Park, meaning the fire had crossed the river. The notice said if people had not left the area yet, "now is the time." Officials said emergency crews were busy with fire operations and would not be able to respond if people needed help.
The Edson area, about 190 kilometres west of Edmonton, saw four new fire starts on Friday, said Mercier.
An unprecedented start to the wildfire season led Alberta to bring in a provincewide state of emergency on May 6. At one point, about 29,000 people were out of their homes in various communities.
The state of emergency was lifted last week.
On Friday afternoon, before the evacuation order was issued for Edson and the surrounding area, about 3,500 Albertans remained out of their homes.
Evacuation buses were leaving from three points in Yellowhead County and five in Edson. An evacuation centre was being set up in Edmonton's Expo Centre.
Zahara said there had been little threat in the area as recently as four days ago. Hot weather and high winds put a stop to that.
"This fire has flared back up," Zahara said.
"It's really important people adhere to the evacuation order."
He said no services, including fire and medical, would be available in Edson until further notice.
Edson was evacuated for three days in early May by another wildfire.
Zahara said at the time that he thought there was a good chance the town would be lost to the flames.
That evacuation took a heavy financial toll on townspeople through loss of income and unexpected expenses such as hotel rooms, he said.
— By Bob Weber in Edmonton
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2023.
The Canadian Press