Canadians evacuate due to wildfires as air quality deteriorates

May 12, 2024, 6:30 PM | Updated: May 13, 2024, 4:11 pm

Smoke from wildfires blankets the city as a couple has a picnic in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, May...

Smoke from wildfires blankets the city as a couple has a picnic in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, May 11. Thousands across Canada were urged to evacuate from blazing wildfires on Saturday, and the smoke emanating from them could be another danger. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press/AP via CNN Newsource)

(Jason Franson/The Canadian Press/AP via CNN Newsource)

Originally Published: 12 MAY 24 04:45 ET

(CNN) — Thousands across Canada were urged to evacuate from blazing wildfires on Saturday, and the smoke emanating from them could be another danger lasting for the next two days — resulting in poor air quality and reduced visibility.

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Approximately 3,200 residents in northeastern British Columbia were under an evacuation order Saturday afternoon as the Parker Lake fire raged on in the area, spanning more than 4,000 acres. Meanwhile, evacuation alerts were in place for parts of Alberta as the MWF-017 wildfire spread to nearly 5,000 acres.

Smoke from the infernos has caused Environment Canada to issue a special air quality statement that extends from British Columbia to Ontario.

Residents in portions of British Columbia “are being impacted or are likely to be impacted by wildfire smoke over the next 24-48 hours,” Saturday’s alert said. Smoke coming from northeastern British Columbia is causing “very poor air quality and reduced visibility” in parts of Alberta, according to the alert.

While conditions have improved temporarily in parts of the province, smoke is expected to return on Sunday.

“Conditions should begin to improve Sunday night for much of the province. Over northwestern Alberta conditions are likely to remain poor through Monday or possibly Tuesday,” the alert said.

In parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, wildfire smoke could bring periods of poor air quality and reduced visibility, the statement said.

Just last year, Canadian wildfires made their way to parts of the United States and caused dangerous air conditions across the country. In 2023, 19 counties in 11 states had days with “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality — given at least a “code purple” alert on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index.

Canadian officials warned that those at higher risk of experiencing health effects from wildfire smoke include people with lung disease such as asthma, people with heart disease, along with older adults, children, those who are pregnant and people who work outdoors. They also recommended that those who spend time outdoors wear a mask to help reduce exposure to fine particles of smoke.

Thousands forced to evacuate from wildfires in British Columbia

An evacuation order was in place for the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and the Fort Nelson First Nation, according to a joint press release on Saturday. About 2,800 residents from the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and about 450 residents from the Fort Nelson First Nation were asked to evacuate.

Related: Coping with poor air quality

“In moments of uncertainty, unity becomes critical,” Mayor Rob Fraser of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality said in the press release, “Please evacuate calmly, our collective strength will be our resilience.”

Northern Rockies Regional Municipality information officer Jaylene MacIver told CNN “there has generally been good compliance,” though some residents chose to remain in place.

Over 90% of the approximately 450 residents of Fort Nelson First Nation evacuated the area, the emergency operations director Terry Cavaliere told CNN.

As the wildfire continues to burn, residents were warned that some utilities and communications could be impacted. Emergency medical services, groceries and other resources are also scarce since evacuation is the main priority.

Residents in Alberta prepare to evacuate

Evacuation alerts are also in effect for parts of Alberta as wildfire MWF-017 burns about 10 miles southwest of Fort McMurray, according to a statement from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. The alerts were active in Fort McMurray, Saprae Creek Estates, Gregoire Lake Estates, Fort McMurray First Nation #468, Anzac and Rickards Landing Industrial Park.

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“Although there is no immediate risk to these communities, the alert ensures residents are prepared to evacuate if conditions change,” the statement said.

“As evening progresses, cooler temperatures are expected to slow wildfire behavior,” officials said Saturday. “Operations will continue with night vision helicopters and heavy equipment.”

Fire restrictions will remain in effect in the area until conditions improve, according to Alberta Wildfire.

“Five crews of wildland firefighters, nine helicopters and airtankers worked on the southeast perimeter today,” Alberta Wildfire said. “Windy conditions challenged firefighting efforts. Heavy equipment also worked to build a fire guard on the east side of this wildfire.”

On Sunday, an incident management team will be managing the wildfire with an additional crew and air support, according to Alberta Wildfire.

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Canadians evacuate due to wildfires as air quality deteriorates