14 homes destroyed in Paddle Prairie Metis settlement in wildfire

Members of the Paddle Prairie Métis settlement say they had no time to take any belongings in order to escape a massive wildfire that was just a couple of kilometres from their community.

A message posted on Facebook Thursday evening from the settlement, reported that 14 homes had been lost in the 230,000 hectare wildfire.

The community, located 720 km northwest of Edmonton along the MacKenzie Hwy, was forced to flee as winds from the north pushed the out of control fire near High Level, Alta. south toward Paddle Prairie.

“It was still going hard when I left,” said council member Danielle Poitras in a phone interview from Grande Prairie.

“I know we did lose some homes.”

Members were only told to leave when the fire was two kilometers away from the hamlet.

Lori Wanuch, vice chair of the settlement, said the community was not given enough notice.

“Our members did not take anything. They left their pets at home because we had two volunteers going around feeding the pets. So everyone thought their pets were fine,” said Wanuch.

“The horses, everything was at home because as far as we knew we weren’t a threat from the Chuckegg Creek fire.”

(People in Paddle Prairie left the community without belongings or pets. The fire was two kilometres away when the call came to evacuate. Photo couresty Dean Ducharme)

When APTN News visited Paddle Prairie last week, members were taking in evacuees while creating their own evacuation plan.

Elders, children and those with respiratory issues were told to leave due to the smoke.

No one was expecting this.

“I just talked to my brother and he said ‘we could lose it all,’” said Tina St. Germain, who volunteered to help evacuees last week.

“I’m not sure how many homes are lost. With the smoke cover you have to wait until that lifts.”

(The wildfire burning south from High Level covers 230,000 hectares. Photo courtesy: Dean Ducharme)

St. Germain spoke with APTN from Peace River, a town taking in evacuees.

She said her home is in the northern part of Paddle Prairie and in line with the fire.

““When I walked in that house it wasn’t about the stuff. It was about the structure that you built your family around. Right?” she said, “I walked around in a daze. There was so much I could have grabbed.

“I couldn’t even think all I could think was the memories.”

Currently, there are 29 wildfires in Alberta.

Wabasca and Bigstone Cree Nation have also been evacuated.

There are more than a dozen communities that have been evacuated since the fires started two weeks ago, leaving evacuees scattered across the northern part of the province.

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