The entire town of High Level, Alberta is being evacuated today, May 20, 2019. If the Chuckegg Creek Fire burns close to or into the town while pushed by a strong wind, it could be a repeat of the nightmare scenario we saw last November in Paradise, California when the Camp Fire spread from house to house.
Monday at 3:12 p.m. MDT the Chuckegg Fire was about four miles southwest of High Level. Moderate or strong winds are expected to push the head of the fire toward the northwest this week, but spread on the flanks will most likely cause it to move closer to the town at the same time. By the weekend the forecast calls for winds out of the west that would seriously increase the threat to the town unless the 64 firefighters assigned on the 170,000-acre fire can perform heroic measures to stop the fire in that area.
(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Chuckegg Fire, including the most recent, click here.)
In some neighborhoods in Paradise last Fall the homes were about 18 to 20 feet apart according to the measurements we took using Google Earth. In High Level, that separation distance is about half that — in some areas the homes are about 10 feet apart.
When one structure is ignited by a burning ember that may have traveled a quarter of a mile or more from a fire (or a burning home) the radiant heat alone can ignite the homes on both sides. Then you can have a self-powered conflagration spreading house to house through a city. When the structures are that close together, the homeowners have not reduced the fuel in the Home Ignition Zone, and the home itself is not built to FireWise standards, a massive disaster can be the result. A strong wind exacerbates the problem. In Paradise the wind kept much of the heat and the embers close to the ground, preheating fuels ahead. The canopies of some of the trees survived, but virtually nothing near the ground remained unburned.