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Wildfire evacuation orders lifting for residents of Edson, Alta., and Yellowhead County

Residents of Edson and Yellowhead County can return home starting 6 p.m. Thursday, town and county officials announced in their latest wildfire update. 

After nearly a week away, people will be allowed to head home starting tonight.

Smoke hangs over an empty street with businesses on either side.

After nearly a week away, residents of Edson, Alta., and Yellowhead County have been given the green light to return home.

The wildfire evacuation order issued June 9 will lift at 6 p.m. Thursday, allowing residents to head home, town and county officials said during a noon update on social media.

However, an evacuation alert is now in effect for residents in the region, meaning people should be prepared to evacuate on short notice within four hours.

“From a firefighting perspective this fire is like holding a tiger by the tail. We cannot turn our backs on it. This is the reality,” Christine Beveridge, Edson’s chief administrative officer, said during Thursday’s update.

The town, 200 kilometres west of Edmonton, is among dozens of communities across Alberta forced to evacuate during this year’s historic wildfire season.

More than 8,000 residents were ordered to leave on June 9 as a fire grew dangerously close to Edson’s southern boundary. It was the second time this year the town was evacuated due to the threat of wildfire.

But not everyone from Edson is planning to return immediately.

Gord Lohr has been staying in an RV park in Spruce Grove, just west of Edmonton, since last week’s evacuation. He told CBC News on Thursday that he won’t go home until there’s a guarantee he can stay put.

“Of course I’d like to get home,” he said. “But if I drive for four hours, get home, and they say, ‘Oh, you have to leave,’ can you see any sense in that?”

Lohr, 80, said it’s not easy for him to deal with packing and hooking up his RV, and he doesn’t want to deal with the uncertainty of the ongoing evacuation alert while the wildfire near town remains out of control.

As crews continue to work on hotspots, municipal officials say much-needed rain has bolstered efforts to control wildfires.

“When it comes to precipitation, five millimetres equals about one day of reprieve, meaning approximately we’ve received probably 50 mm of rain from this rain event over the last couple of days,” Beveridge said.

The rainfall allows firefighters up to 14 days to go safely into areas impacted by wildfire to assess and further control the damage.

Despite the rain, the flames of an out-of-control wildfire are still burning within 1.5 kilometres from Edson’s southern edge. But firefighters have pushed the fire south past the McLeod River near Willmore Park.

More than 300 firefighters, along with aircraft and heavy equipment, are being used to suppress fire in the region.

On Thursday morning, Edson’s streets began to show signs of life.

Some grocery store shelves were being restocked as other essential services, including gas stations and pharmacies, began to open again.

Partial re-entry to northern parts of Yellowhead County began Wednesday evening.

Remaining evacuation orders are now lifted and will impact the Marlboro and Millers Lake areas, and an area south of Highway 16.

Returning residents were cautioned that essential services would be limited and the wildfire danger remains high.

Edson resident Tony Frison has been staying with friends in Leduc during the latest evacuation. He’s planning to drive home with his family on Friday morning.

He said he’s looking forward to getting back to his normal routines, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty about what could happen for the rest of the wildfire season.

“At the end of the day, you’re in the hands of Mother Nature to a degree,” he said.

“You’re prepared for the worst, maybe, but you kind of have it in the back of your mind to hope for the best — that we’ll be able to get back to our homes. And the people that are putting in the countless hours can help the town and the community and the county.”

The wildfire outside Edson, officially known as EWF-031, is the largest fire in a complex of three fires that have spread out across the county. EWF-031 is more than 300,000 hectares in size, which is 4½ times the size of Edmonton, Beveridge noted.

During Thursday’s update, Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara cautioned residents that medical support has not been restored to full capacity as the community’s emergency room remains closed with only one ambulance available.

Yellowhead County is expected to provide its next wildfire update early next week, said chief administrative officer Luc Mercier.

Heavy wildfire smoke has set in throughout the town of Edson and the surrounding area. Air quality on Monday is listed as very-high risk.

As of Thursday afternoon, 78 forest fires were burning across the province. Of the 76 inside Alberta’s forest protection areas, 21 were burning out of control.

A slow-moving low pressure system now moving across the province brought heavy rain overnight and into Thursday morning.

There were rainfall warnings for northeastern and central parts of the province, along with air quality advisories prompted by wildfire smoke.

The rains have helped dampen the danger in Wood Buffalo, where a 60,568-hectare wildfire is threatening the remote community of Fort Chipewyan, triggering evacuation orders earlier this month.

According to Environment Canada, more than 70 mm of rain had fallen in the Wood Buffalo region overnight with up to 15 mm more expected to fall Thursday.

As the rain moves northeastward toward Saskatchewan, Environment Canada expects Alberta to remain in an unsettled weather pattern with scattered showers and blustery winds.

The wet weather is offering welcome respite from dry, sweltering heat that has set the stage for a historic wildfire season.

The rains, however, are not expected to provide lasting relief. Alberta’s forests are parched, following months of drought-light conditions in the province, and the fire risk is expected to escalate when the seasonal summer heat returns.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wallis Snowdon

Reporter

Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.

With files from Mrinali Anchan and Madeline Smith

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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