Wildfires prompt evacuations of Alta. towns 0
Coalhurst resident Mark Entz check his phone for news of when he and his family can go home at the evacuation centre in nearby Picture Butte, just north of Lethbridge, Alberta, on September 10, 2012. Coalhurst was evacuated due to a threat from a grass fire moving eastward from the Blood Reserve to the west. (MIKE DREW/QMI AGENCY)
LETHBRIDGE, Alta. - Fierce winds stoking massive wildfires in southern Alberta prompted evacuations in the towns of Coalhurst, Milk River and parts of Lethbridge Monday.
The blaze broke out Monday morning west of Lethbridge, about 200 km south of Calgary, and put the southern Alberta city on emergency alert.
Officials ordered the evacuation of some Lethbridge communities, including those east of 30 St., north of Walsh Dr., and the west-side trailer court and area.
Residents of Coalhurst, meanwhile, were ordered to evacuate to nearby Picture Butte after the fire came within a half kilometre of homes, to the edge of the highway, southeast of the town.
By 9 p.m. the blaze, which had covered about 4,800 hectares, was under control and the threat to the town diminished, but crews were putting out hot spots just to be sure, said Mike Derricott, chief administration officer with the town of Coalhurst.
He said the evacuation was ordered because of the unpredictability of the threatening winds.
"Had those winds shifted a certain direction, we could have had another Slave Lake situation," he said.
Residents of the County of Lethbridge were still out of their homes, said Reeve Lorne Hickey.
Coalhurst town councillor Heather Caldwell said as the fire and smoke crept closer the decision was made to ask everyone to leave as a precaution.
"For many residents it would be scary and the challenge is many of the residents are commuters," she said.
"They are in the city of Lethbridge working, and their children are in Coalhurst."
At the community centre in Picture Butte, evacuees huddled together, many carrying pets, worried about their homes.
"I am scared. My stomach hurts so bad," said Tammy Dyck, who was at work when she heard the news of the wildfire and evacuation order on the radio.
"I had a kid stuck in Coalhurst at school and three others in Lethbridge."
While residents evacuated the town, Dyck was permitted to enter to pick up her daughter and stopped off at home.
"When I went in to pick up my daughter it was pitch-black," she said.
"And my house smells like smoke, and it took me an hour and a half to get out (of the town)."
By 10:35 p.m., they got the welcome news they could return to their homes, and in half hour the once packed evacuation centre was cleared out.
The state of emergency was revised to only include those parts of Lethbridge under evacuation order.
Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk visited the evacuation centres.
"Everybody has been evacuated and are well taken care of ... obviously they'd rather be home, but all of their basic needs are met," he said.
He said damage estimates were not a focus just then.
"Once everyone's back home, that's when we bring out our pencils and calculators and tally it up ... at this point in time we're focusing on saving lives and property." More than a hundred responders from Lethbridge and its surrounding communities helped fight the blaze, the county's second this year.
Water bombers were called out to hit fire-ravaged areas of Lethbridge County until they were grounded by darkness.