Close to 100 wildfires raging across the Alberta region of Canada have forced more than 29,000 people to flee in what officials have called an “unprecedented situation” for the province.
In the past 24 hours alone, 16 new fires have ignited in Alberta, Wildfire Information Unit Lead Christie Tucker said during a Sunday evening news conference.
Fighters across the province are still battling 98 wildfires, 27 of which were burning “out of control,” according to Alberta officials.
In a news conference Monday, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith asked residents with firefighting experience who can “lend a helping hand” to contact emergency services.
This type of ferocious wildfire activity isn’t typical this early in the year, and firefighters don’t usually see such a large area burned, Tucker said Sunday morning.
But bone-dry conditions, abnormally hot weather and high winds have converged to fuel this “really extreme wildfire activity,” Tucker said.
“We could be sort of settling in for a long fight here,” she said.
Wildfires have burned a total of 390,000 hectares in Alberta so far this year, and recent blazes have burned a “huge amount of ground” over the last few days, Tucker said.
Approximately 1,000 firefighters from other regions have been requested to assist in controlling the fires, and they will be arriving over the next week, according to Tucker.
Some gains were made Sunday as scattered showers across the province helped firefighters access areas they couldn’t before due to extreme wildfire behavior.
“This is giving firefighters a helping hand, causing less active wildfire, allowing them to work on parts of fires they hadn’t been able to access before. It’s a much needed chance to make progress on some of these powerful, challenging wildfires,” Tucker said.
Firefighters now hope that cooler temperatures and higher humidity will help them battle the flames in the south and central part of the province – but challenging conditions remain in the northern part of the province, Tucker said.
“Up north, it’s still very dry. We’re still seeing winds and we are expecting a continuation of those kinds of conditions that can lead to extreme wildfire behavior,” she said in the Sunday evening news conference.
Communities in Alberta have seen some extremely hot temperatures in the past week, with the capital city of Edmonton hitting 31 degrees Celsius, about 88 degrees Fahrenheit, on Wednesday and Thursday – more than 10 degrees above average, according to the Canada Centre for Climate Services.
The region has also seen a lack of precipitation which may have contributed to the extreme fire conditions in Alberta, drying out land and making fires more difficult to contain, CNN Meteorologist Robert Shackelford said.
Tucker said crews faced with “rapidly changing wildfires across the province” will continue to focus their efforts on fires that are threatening communities.
Meanwhile, multiple hospitals have been fully evacuated and many roads are closed in north and central Alberta, according to province officials.
So far, about 5,000 people have sought refuge at evacuation centers, Alberta Emergency Management chief Colin Blair said in the Sunday news conference.
As of Monday, 54 schools have been forced to close, affecting 10,500 students, and contingency plans are being developed, Mike Ellis, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services, said in the briefing.
Additionally, 300 patients from long-care facilities have been safely evacuated from various locations across Alberta.
The extent of the damage has yet to be seen
As thousands of Albertans flee their homes and head to evacuation centers, they leave not knowing whether they’ll have a home to return to when the evacuation orders are lifted.
Rick Laboucan, who grew up in the community of Fox Lake, told CNN affiliate CTV that his family home won’t be there when the community returns.
“My whole family’s side over there, our little village side there on the north Fox Lake is all wiped out,” Laboucan said. “Family and friends’ homes are gone.”
An out-of-control wildfire has burned more than 16,300 hectares of land, about 40,200 acres, as of Sunday in the community of Fox Lake, authorities said.
It remains unclear just how much damage the fires have left as the thick smoke and heavy fire conditions keep crews from fully assessing property loss, Blair said.
“We know structures have been lost, but our first priority is protecting lives and dealing with the emergency response first and foremost,” Blair said.
Officials do know that dozens of structures have been damaged, including in the Fox Lake area, where 56 firefighters with heavy equipment and aircraft are battling the flames, authorities said.
Many have also been ordered to flee in Yellowhead County, where immediate evacuations were ordered for 8,000 people. Another 3,600 were ordered to evacuate from Little Red River Cree Nation.
Another out-of-control wildfire dubbed EWF-031 has burned about 77,920 hectares of land, about 192,500 acres, as it rages southeast of the town of Edson in Yellowhead County, according to Alberta fire officials.
Smith has said it’s an “unprecedented situation our province is facing.”
On Monday, Smith announced that financial assistance would be available to evacuees.
“Every adult who has been evacuated and displaced for seven consecutive days will receive a $1,250 along with an additional $500 for each dependent ending child under age 18,” the premier said.
Smith said the application process will move swiftly so that people can receive evacuation payments as soon as possible. She added that the government is working to ensure that qualifying residents who live in remote locations and indigenous reserves will also receive payments.
CNN’s Zoe Sottile contributed to this report.