Alberta First Nation evacuees return home but are warned wildfire season far from over

(Makeshift sign on the road leading to the Bigstone Cree Nation Wednesday. Photo posted on the Bigstone Cree Evacuation facebook page)

Brandi Morin
APTN National News
BIGSTONE CREE NATION — Residents are continuing to return home after an evacuation was ordered for the northern Alberta hamlet of Wabasca and the Bigstone Cree Nation (BCN) but officials are warning people to be ready to leave again on short notice.

Dozens of wildfires are burning across Alberta and officials are issuing evacuation notices for several oil installations in northern parts of the province.

The Municipal District of Opportunity issued a local state of emergency when an out of control wildfire south of the area posed a threat to the community starting last Saturday.

Up to 5,000 people were reported to have fled the area.

Many camped out at Calling Lake just over an hour south of Wabasca.

Some took shelter at an emergency evacuation center located there and others drove further to Athabasca, Slave Lake, Westlock and Edmonton.

BCN Elder Paul Beauregard said he was impressed by how well the Red Cross organized to help people displaced at the evacuation centers.

Elder on porch
BCN Elder Paul Beauregard back on his porch

He arrived in Athabasca in the wee hours of the morning Sunday and said his time away from home caused a lot of discomfort.

“I talked to other seniors too, many are not healthy,” said Beauregard. “Just to order people out of their homes, I think there should be more consideration given of a person’s situation.”

He arrived back at home Tuesday night and for now, he feels safe, however acknowledged potential hazards with the overly dry conditions and low water levels in local creeks and swamps.

“It is possible that we could be faced with many fires. There’s so much dead debris and dry grass in the forest and, what can a person do?”

  •  Up-to-date information fire restrictions and fire bans is available by calling 1-866-FYI-FIRE (1-866-394-3473).
  • To report a wildfire call 310-FIRE (310-3473).

Hundreds of people with no means of transportation were taken from BCN by the bus load and taken to evacuation centers.

Today the buses lined the outside of the Bigstone community school where hundreds of people returned with their belongings. Some only had the clothes on their backs, other families carried their belongings in garbage bags.

Carrie Cardinal was tired and ready to go home, she is one of the residents of BCN who is still on evacuation notice awaiting news on if the roads were cleared.

“They (crews) just have to pack up everything. There was sprinklers on our houses and the road’s a wreck now because all the trucks and stuff are going on and off of it so we’re just waiting,” said Cardinal.

evacuation centre
BCN residents arrive home Wednesday

Wabasca resident Darrell McLeod said he waited until the RCMP came to his door to tell him he had to leave.

“It was an experience,” he said. “It wasn’t nice to leave home, but you gotta do what you gotta do.”

He added that the two days he was away seemed more like a week, and that he’s looking forward to getting home to make sure his dogs are alright.

The Second Hand Animal Rescue Society was in Wabasca and BCN during the crisis to water and feed animals left behind.

The latest Alberta Wildfire update states that in the last 24 hours there have been 33 new wildfires.

In total there are approximately 63 wildfires with 13 of them listed as out of control.

Since April 1, 723 fires and 29,660 hectares have been burned. The wildfire outlook in Alberta remains severe through to the end of this week.

Alberta Health Services issued a precautionary air-quality advisory for the entire north zone and Edmonton areas.

BCN residents head to a line of buses for the trip home

For the time being Wabasca and BCN residents will remain on a 30-minute evacuation notice.

A province-wide open fire ban continues to be in effect. This includes no campfires or other open fires are permitted in campgrounds or in forested areas.

The Alberta Government encourages all Albertans to follow the fire restrictions and heed to any evacuation orders in their communities.

For more information go to the Alberta government website here:

[email protected]

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