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Wildfires force evacuation of numerous centres across southern Alberta

Calgary Herald logo Calgary Herald 2017-10-18 Bryan Passifiume

Fast-moving wildfires fuelled by strong winds tore through southern Alberta on Tuesday, leading to evacuations and local states of emergency in several communities, while others were cut off by smoke.

A wildfire in the Crowsnest Pass between the community of Coleman and the B.C. border sent people fleeing from their homes and forced local schools into lockdown. 

That fire was driven by strong winds fed by an intense low-pressure system parked over the central areas of the province, whipping up gusts between 100 and 130 km/h across southern Alberta and east into Saskatchewan and Manitoba. 

Emergency crews also evacuated the hamlet of Hilda in Cypress County in Alberta’s southeast, as flames pushed along farms and jumped highways. 

As the day went on, wildfire emergencies were declared east of Calgary in Gleichen and the Siksika Nation, where peace officers went door to door ensuring people had heeded orders to leave. 

Fires also caused evacuation alerts in Acadia Valley and Empress near the Saskatchewan border, and Monarch east of Fort Macleod. 

As well, residents in the west Lethbridge neighbourhood of Scenic Heights were put on an evacuation advisory due to fires burning outside of that city. 

The winds also blew over a CN freight train near Trochu, as well as fanning flames caused by a second train working near the Strathmore Agrium plant. 

Numerous trucks were also blown off the road on Highway 2 and Highway 22 due to strong cross-winds south of Calgary.

North of Calgary, at least one home was destroyed when wind-fuelled wildfires roared through the Sharp Hill neighbourhood near Balzac.

Fire crews from Rocky View County, Airdrie and Calgary spent Tuesday afternoon battling the flames, with residents who were forced out of their homes lodged in a temporary shelter at Genesis Place in Airdrie. 

By the evening, crews managed to get much of the blaze under control and continued to search for flare-ups and hot spots into the night.

As of early Wednesday morning, only evacuation orders and alerts in Coleman remained in effect.

In Calgary, emergency crews were overwhelmed with wind-related calls, which at its peak saw up to 50 Calgary fire trucks dispatched to 36 simultaneous calls. 

Advance warning of Tuesday’s wind storm gave city emergency crews precious time to prepare for the coming weather, said Calgary Emergency Management Agency chief Tom Sampson.

“Mother Nature is rather unpredictable,” he said, speaking to media from the city’s emergency operations centre Tuesday evening.

“We’re thankful to Environment Canada for predicting this and putting out a warning earlier.”

Winds continued into Tuesday evening before dying out overnight. 

Wind also tore the roof off of an apartment complex on Heritage Drive, and sent glass and debris falling to the streets of downtown Calgary.

Evan Wilson was walking along Stephen Avenue near 4th Street when the wind blew panes of glass off the side of TD Square, plunging into glass panels over the Devonian Gardens.

“It looked like a couple of windows were rattling in the building above,” he told Postmedia. 

“I went into TD Square when I saw the wind cranking cast iron fence pieces across the street.

“I got to safely — I’m nobody’s fool.”

The falling glass prompted police to close Stephen Avenue between 2nd Street and 3rd Street S.W.

Enmax crews were also scrambling to respond to reports of downed power lines. The company’s website reported thousands of customers without power at one point Tuesday afternoon. 

In south Calgary, Enmax reported power outages in Willow Park, Maple Ridge, Lake Bonavista and Acadia. There were also outages in West Hillhurst, St. Andrews Heights, Hounsfield Heights, Capitol Hill and Banff Trail.
On Twitter: @bryanpassifiume


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