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Alberta wildfire evacuees frustrated by a lack of information and timelines for return | CBC News

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Gayle St. Denis says she and her husband would have had little warning of the wildfire approaching their Lac Ste. Anne County property, had her spouse not been driving by at the time.

Safe and sheltered in a Westlock hotel with her husband and dogs on Sunday, St. Denis’s most pressing need now is for information.

“It’s tough, the hurry up and wait game,” she said. “But there’s absolutely nothing that you can do except for wait.”

Some of the 29,000 Albertans displaced from their homes are frustrated by the lack of detail coming from government agencies and municipalities about when to be ready to evacuate, what’s happening with their homes and livestock, how long critical services will be interrupted and when they can return.

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“I was absolutely disappointed in the lack of co-ordination in communication and resources,” St. Denis said. She found herself scrolling through about 10 different municipal social media accounts to get updated wildfire information for her area.

None of the information posted on social media channels was on municipal websites, she said.

St. Denis wants to know what help is available to them as evacuees.

She wants to know when she can assess the damage to her home, and how long they’re likely to be displaced.

Rumours filling the void, evacuee says

Lindsay Lauer is similarly frustrated by the absence of intel.

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She and her family are among the 7,200 people who have left Drayton Valley after fire crept toward that town, southwest of Edmonton.

She says updates say the evacuation order is still in place, but nothing more. Residents are scared and want to know what areas the fire has impacted and what damage it caused, she said.

“They need to be like, ‘This is the reality of the situation going on and this is what we’re doing,’ ” she said.

Incorrect information is now filling the void, she said. Some people who have defied the evacuation order and stayed behind are posting updates online that aren’t true, she said.

On Saturday, Stephen Lacroix, managing director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA), said although planes can survey affected areas by air, the smoke is so thick, observers cannot see the state of the properties on the ground.

Jens Jorgensen is also spending time in the dark — literally and figuratively. The farmer who ranches south of Wildwood is defying an evacuation order to tend to his cattle. The power cut out Saturday morning.

He’s got one generator, which he’s swapping between the house and equipment that gets water to his animals.

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“There’s nothing that gives us any sense of when we might be getting our power back,” he said.

Wildfire, Alberta, trucking, hauling, transport, western Canada, goods
Truck driver Lonny McColman has been trying to deliver a semi-trailer full of tires from B.C. to Mildred Lake, Alberta. He’s been stuck with his load in Hinton for three days since wildfires forced road closures across the province. (Konnor Killoran/For CBC)

In Hinton, Lonny McColman has been waiting with a semi-trailer full of tires for the highway to re-open — for three days.

“The biggest thing is nobody will tell us how long this is going to be,” McColman says. “There’s nobody to talk to. Nobody tells us information at all.”

The provincial highway transportation website simply shows many of the roads through west-central Alberta as closed.

On Sunday, AEMA’s executive director, Colin Blair, acknowledged evacuees’ frustration and stress, and asked them to be patient.

“I would say given the magnitude of this event and the fact that it’s unprecedented, I’d still say that we’re in early days,” Blair said. “[It’s] the actual wildfire situation that’s going to dictate the future steps for any municipalities.”

Alberta wildfire officials
Colin Blair, executive director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, speaks at a press conference on widespread wildfires on May 7, 2023. Christie Tucker, an information officer for Alberta Wildfire, also provided an update on the state of wildfires. (Janet French/CBC)

AEMA and Alberta Wildfire’s priorities are ensuring people are moved to safety and getting the wildfires that pose a threat under control, he said.

At Sunday’s briefing, Blair had information about property damage for some, but not all, of the communities in harm’s way.

He said evacuees who register in person at local evacuation centres can get more of the localized info they seek.

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About 20 per cent of displaced people have registered so far, he said.

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