Updated at 7:42 p.m. MT, May 16
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.
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 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.
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.
Here is a map that shows heat detected by satellites from fires in the Slave Lake area.
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.
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.