Northern Alberta town of Slave Lake devastated by wildfire

Main street Slave Lake fire CTV

Updated at 7:42 p.m. MT, May 16
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Slave Lake fire
CTV
Slave Lake Fire
Slave Lake Fire, CTV

A large portion of Slave Lake (map) burned to the ground Sunday when winds gusting up to 60 mph pushed a wildfire through the northern Alberta town, home to 6,700 people.

Mid-afternoon on Sunday, Mel Knight, the Alberta Minister of Sustainable Resource Development, in charge of the management of wildfires within the province, said:

We kind of thought the thing was getting under control. What happened this afternoon is the winds picked up.

By the time an evacuation order was issued all roads leading out of the town had been engulfed in fire, cutting off escape routes. Until the power went off, the town’s official web site read in bold red letters: “Fire has breached the Town of Slave Lake Boundary along the southern portion. Please move toward large green areas, beaches or large parking lots like Walmart, Canadian Tire, or the Sawridge Mall Parking Lot.

The Walmart parking lot in Slave lake served as a makeshift refugee camp for town residents. CTV Edmonton

The radio station, which had been broadcasting evacuation notices, lost its power and went off the air, hours before burning down itself. At 7:30 p.m. Sunday, officials opened Highway 2, which would take residents east through a highway and dirt road, away from the flames.

The winds prevented air tankers and helicopters from attacking the fire.

Main street Slave Lake fire CTV
The Town Hall in Slave Lake burned on Sunday. Photo: CTV

A mass evacuation began Sunday night and the RCMP brought in buses to evacuate those whose cars didn’t have enough gas to reach the nearby towns. Without power, gas stations were not able to fill up fuel tanks of vehicles.

Provincial officials are saying 40 percent of the buildings in Slave Lake have burned, including hundreds of homes, many businesses, and the high school, town hall, library, and main mall.

According to the Government of Alberta, the wildfire east of Slave Lake is out of control and has burned approximately 2,000 hectares (4,942 acres). The wildfire south of Slave Lake is also not in control and has burned 15,000  hectares (37,065 acres).

About 1,000 firefighters are currently working on fires in Alberta, and when the wind conditions permit, 100 helicopters and 20 air tankers.

Slave Lake Fire
Slave Lake Fire. Photo: Jon Tupper

Here is a map that shows heat detected by satellites from fires in the Slave Lake area.

Map Slave Lake fire 5-16-2011
Map of heat detected by satellites, in red and orange, from fires near Slave Lake, Alberta, May 16, 2011. MODIS

The fire is one of 116 wildfires burning across Alberta. One-third of them are out of control and 69 are new within the last 24 hours, Duncan MacDonnell, a spokesman with the Alberta government said Monday morning.

CBC NEWS has an impressive slide show. The Edmonton Journal has a gallery of photos of the fire.

In this sparsely populated area, evacuees are being sheltered at the Expo Center in North Edmonton, Alberta, 250 km (156 miles) to the south. Other residents are going to the community hall in Westlock 165 miles (102 miles) to the south.

A Facebook page, Slave Lake and Community Message Board, has been established for communicating with those affected by the fire and for coordinating donations of clothing, food, and money.

The Canadian Red Cross has a special program for accepting donations for the victims of the Alberta fires. Go to their web site, or call 1-800-418-1111.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills. Google+

5 thoughts on “Northern Alberta town of Slave Lake devastated by wildfire”

  1. NEVER ASSUME… EVEN THOUGH THERE’S IS REALLY NOTHING ONE CAN DO IN THIS KIND OF SITUATION. I’VE SEEN FIRE GO 75-100 MPH SO FAST IT BURNED RIGHT PASS THE HOUSES. REMEMBER NEVER ASSUME, VERY VERY IMPORTANT. VERY SORRY TO SEE THIS HAPPEN, HOPE RECOVERY IS QUICK. RFPs USA.

  2. I have worked many summers in Slave Lake over the years at the Tanker Base on the airtankers and I was there over a month last summer.It is hard to imagine how the people are coping who lost their houses and jobs.I am very sorry for what you have lost and wish a speedy recovery of the town.

  3. If it was not for badluck we would have no luck @ ALL. Try to put a positive spin on it all ” spring cleaning ” and hopefully this is a wake up call, for more controlled burns, through out the year’s to follow, GODSPEED.

  4. I just wanna send many prayers out to my loving cousin who’s house burt. My family and I will help you guys out as much as possible , Love you <3

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