Firefighters working to protect town of High Level

The Chuckegg Creek Fire in Northern Alberta has burned more than 241,000 acres (97,600 hectares)

aerial photo Chuckegg Creek Fire High Level Alberta
An aerial view of the firing operation on the Chuckegg Creek Fire southwest of High Level, Alberta.

For several days firefighters have been conducting a firing operation to protect the town of High Level, Alberta. The Chuckegg Creek Fire has primarily spread to the northwest but the east flank of the blaze has moved closer to the community of 3,159 residents.

The burning operation is southwest of the town, using Highways 58 and 35 as anchors.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Chuckegg Creek Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

Alberta Wildfire personnel in conjunction with municipal firefighting resources and air support from helicopters and air tankers continue to focus containment efforts around the fire perimeter south of High Level. With current weather conditions firefighters have been effective due to lighter winds out of the northeast. This aids crews protecting power line poles west and south of the Town. The main direction of spread remains away from town. That is expected to change Sunday when the winds will be out of the south, southwest, and northwest accompanied by warmer temperatures, 80F (27C). .

Heavy equipment has been working on the northeast side of the fire and continues to make progress consolidating a line around the fire perimeter. They have built approximately eight kilometers of containment line.

The High Level Fire Department and other municipal firefighters have completed structure protection on the southwest and northwest sides of the community. In addition, structural protection is complete on Mackenzie County homes southeast of High Level, Tolko and Norbord.

map Chuckegg Creek Fire High Level Alberta
Map of the Chuckegg Creek Fire near High Level, Alberta. Alberta Wildfire, May 23, 2019.

Firefighters conduct firing operation to protect town of High Level, Alberta

The #ChuckeggCreekFire has burned 92,000 hectares (227,000 acres) in northern Alberta

firing operation burnout protect High Level Alberta Chuckegg Fire
Smoke from a firing operation firefighters conducted on May 22 along Highways 58 and 35 to help protect the town of High Level, Alberta. Photo by Alberta Wildfire.

Firefighters battling the Chuckegg Creek Fire in Northern Alberta, Canada took advantage of a wind coming out of the northeast Wednesday to conduct a burnout or firing operation along Highways 58 and 35 to help protect the town of High Level. The goal is to eliminate fuel by burning to make it more difficult for the fire to make a run into the town if pushed by a southwest or west wind.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Chuckegg Creek Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

Below is more information from Alberta Wildfire:

  • Due to northeast winds and resources the fire has not reached the Town of High Level. The main area of spread remains away from town.
  • The High Level Fire Department and other municipal firefighters have completed structure protection on the southwest side of town and is being established on the northwest side of the town. In addition, structural protection has been established on Mackenzie County homes southeast of High Level, Tolko and Norbord.
  • Structural firefighters have also been taking preventive measures on homes. This includes removing debris from yards, removing patio furniture from decks and other flammable material.
  • [Wednesday] afternoon, firefighters conducted a successful controlled burn operation to create containment along highway 35 south of High Level, and west along highway 58. Further ignition operations will be utilized when conditions allow.
  • Alberta Wildfire firefighters along with air support from helicopters and air tankers continue to focus containment efforts south of High Level, and with current conditions firefighters continue to be effective, due to lighter winds out of the northeast. This in result continued to aided crews on protecting power line poles west and south of the Town of High Level.
  • The last recorded size is approximately 92,000 hectares. [227,000 acres]
  • Heavy equipment has been working along the northeast side of the fire and continue to make progress on consolidating a guard around the fire perimeter.
  • There are 110 structural firefighters that continue to establish and maintain structural protection on homes in the Town of High Level and on other critical values at risk within Mackenzie County. Alberta Wildfire has 76, firefighters along with 24 helicopters on this fire. There are more resources arriving daily.

The weather forecast for High Level, Canada predicts winds out of the northeast or north-northeast through Saturday, which should make it possible for firefighters to continue the burnout or construct firelines on the east and northeast sides of the fire. Sunday will bring warm temperatures and winds out of the southwest to southeast which could challenge the 76 wildland firefighters assigned to the blaze.

map High Level Alberta Chuckegg Fire
Map by Wildfire Today showing heat that was detected in the 24 hours previous to 5:21 a.m. MDT May 23, 2019. The arrows indicate where firefighters conducted a burnout or firing operation along Highways 58 and 35 to help protect the town of High Level, Alberta.

The town of High Level, Alberta is being evacuated

The entire community is under an evacuation order due to the approaching Chuckegg Creek Fire.

evacuation plan map High Level, Alberta
Map for the evacuation plan for the town of High Level, Alberta. Evacuations will be carried out by zones, within town limits.

The town is in the northern portion of Alberta and had a population of 3,159 in 2016.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Chuckegg Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

An area north of the town of High Level is under a voluntary evacuation notice.

Map Chuckegg Creek HWF042 wildfire
Map of the Chuckegg Creek HWF042 wildfire southwest of High Level, Alberta at 3:12 p.m. CDT May 20, 2019. Click to enlarge.

Some of the homes in High Level are very close together which will make it difficult for firefighters to defend the structures if the fire enters the community pushed by a strong wind.

Homes in community threatened by wildfire in Alberta are dangerously close together

In some areas the homes in High Level, Alberta are closer than the homes were in Paradise, California before the Camp Fire of November, 2018.

housing density High Level, Alberta Chuckegg Creek Fire
Satellite photo showing housing density in High Level, Alberta, which is threatened by the Chuckegg Creek fire. Note the graphic scale at bottom-left. The spacing between some of the homes is about 10 feet. Photo from Google Earth dated Sept. 19, 2019. Click to enlarge.

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.

Map of the Chuckegg Creek HWF042 wildfire
Map of the Chuckegg Creek HWF042 wildfire southwest of High Level, Alberta at 5:18 a.m. CDT May 20, 2019.

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.

Increased wildfire activity predicted for British Columbia and Yukon

Wildfire potential for North America May, June, July, 2019
Wildfire potential for North America May, June, July, 2019. Click to enlarge.

The Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center has predicted above normal wildfire activity  this summer for southern Arizona, areas of California, and western Oregon and Washington.

An outlook for North America released on Friday also shows enhanced potential for British Columbia and the Yukon Territory in June and July.

Below is an excerpt from the North American Seasonal Fire Assessment and Outlook prepared by NIFC, Natural Resources Canada, and Servicio Meteorológico Nacional.

“For May, recent climate model runs suggest Canada will have lower fire severity than normal. While an early start to warm and dry conditions is leaving much of British Columbia prone to fire starts, rainfall is likely in the last half of the month, which will likely result in normal monthly fire severity for the province. The latest climate model runs hint at continued blocking ridges in the eastern Pacific during June, resulting in warm and dry conditions and resulting elevated fire severity indexes in British Columbia and Yukon. This pattern often features the eastern side of the ridge over the Prairies, so western Alberta also appears prone to elevated fire risk, while conditions east of Alberta are likely to have normal values. July’s forecast is similar to June’s forecast, with elevated fire severity indexes expected throughout British Columbia, western Alberta, and southern Yukon. A slight difference exists as the Yukon area depicted covers only the southern part of the territory in July, while in June it extended north near the Arctic coast.”

Wildfire potential for North America, May
Wildfire potential for North America, May 2019.
Wildfire potential for North America, June
Wildfire potential for North America, June 2019.
Wildfire potential for North America
Wildfire potential for North America, July 2019.

Plane crash kills three while mapping fires in B.C.

A small plane checking a fire that burned last year crashed in British Columbia Saturday May 4 killing three occupants. The pilot of the single engine Cessna 182 and two passengers died in the accident while one passenger survived and is being treated after being flown to a Vancouver hospital by a Joint Rescue Coordination Centre helicopter.

Precision Vectors was under contract to the British Columbia Wildfire Service to use airborne infrared equipment to check fires from 2018 for residual holdover heat that persisted through the winter. Two of the deceased have been identified, both affiliated with the company — Lorne Borgal the CEO and founder of Precision Vectors, and Amir Ilya Sedghi who provided data analysis.

The Transportation Safety Board confirmed that the aircraft went down about 57 miles north of Smithers, B.C.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families, friends, and coworkers.