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As Alberta wildfires rage, concern grows over thunderstorms during rainfall | CBC News

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As rain falls in parts of Alberta, a special air quality statement remains in effect as officials monitor weather patterns that may lead to more wildfires.

As of Sunday afternoon, 93 wildfires are burning in Alberta. Of the 86 wildfires burning inside forest protection areas, 23 are considered out of control.

The province will provide an update on the wildfire situation at 3 p.m. MT. CBC will carry the news conference live here.

There was some progress made in tackling the eagle complex, which is two wildfires in the vicinity of Fox Creek and the Municipal District of Greenview, specifically the community of Little Smoky. 

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“The eagle complex got about a millimetre of rain over most of that fire — which is not a lot — but we’ll take what we can get at this point,” Derrick Forsythe, Alberta Wildfire information officer, said in an interview with CBC Sunday from Whitecourt, Alta. 

Forsythe said this has allowed crews to work on the perimeter of the fire. 

“We’re really thankful to most of Albertans who did take the extra care — the ones that went to the forest this weekend,” he said.

“We didn’t have a lot of new starts, normally this long weekend is a busy time for us every year because there’s so many people out on the landscape.”

A fire ban and an off-highway vehicle restriction is currently in place across the province’s forest protection area.

A dozen parks and recreation areas have been closed, and several other sites are being closely monitored. The list of closures will continue to be updated online.

On Sunday, Fox Creek RCMP announced they would seek charges against a man who became stranded after trying to bypass a wildfire checkpoint on Friday.

The man’s truck had gotten stuck in mud and he became surrounded by fire in the vicinity.

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“Due to the active fire in the area, it was deemed unsafe for first responders to enter the area. A forestry helicopter attended the location and was able to airlift the male out to safety,” a release said.

Thunderstorm monitoring

“While showers will certainly be welcomed by firefighters, we monitor thunderstorms very carefully,” Christie Tucker, Alberta Wildfire information unit manager, said during a news conference Saturday. 

“Our lightning sensor fire centres across the forest protection area know where lightning has struck,” she said.

In response, Alberta Wildfire is able to send out patrols to investigate whether lightning may have started a wildfire, Tucker said.

The agency saw lightning strikes in both Edson and Grande Prairie on Saturday and is monitoring for any activity which may lead to more wildfires.

Environment and Climate Change Canada has forecasted rain and cooler temperatures for the first half of next week. 

A break in the upper ridge is moving through the province on Sunday and bringing cooler air and more rain.

Rain will be focused in central Alberta on Monday and Tuesday. 

Evacuation orders due to wildfires remain in effect for about 17 communities across central and northern Alberta. Nearly 10,700 people are waiting for the all-clear to return home, provincial officials said Saturday.

High Level evacuation hub

Crystal McAteer, mayor of High Level, said in an interview Sunday that her town of 4,000 residents has become an oasis for evacuees.

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Since the wildfires forced community evacuations over two weeks ago, High Level doubled its temporary population by accepting an estimated 4,000 people fleeing wildfires. 

“We still probably have approximately 2,000 [evacuees] in the town,” McAteer said. The town has a thousand rooms on offer with overflow in the local arena, curling rink, friendship centre and campsites. 

“It is putting a huge tax upon our town team because we’re a small team and they have been working around the clock and it also puts an overload on our animal shelter or our restaurants.”

High level has been lobbying both the province and the federal government for an evacuation centre. McAteer said they were denied a federal grant for not meeting requirements in alignment with the government’s net zero policy

The mayor is also the latest local government official to call for the postponement of the provincial election on May 29.

“The feeling right here is it isn’t about the election … the battleground is Calgary and southern Alberta,” McAteer said. 

“My personal feeling is it should have been postponed … the whole province except for southern Alberta seems to be on fire.”

WATCH | CBC breaks down what the wildfires might mean for Alberta’s provincial election

How are the Alberta wildfires impacting the election? | About That

With wildfires raging across northern and central Alberta, and tens of thousands of people forced to evacuate, it can be easy to forget that the province is in the middle of an election campaign. With just under two weeks to go before election day, CBC Calgary’s Jason Markusoff helps explain how the fires are impacting the race to become premier.

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Smoke impact

Thick wildfire smoke has settled over much of Alberta, prompting a special air quality statement across most of the province that advises people to avoid being outside due to the health risks of the smoke.

On Sunday afternoon, Environment Canada’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) listed Edmonton’s air quality at a 10+, or very high risk. The conditions have respirologists like Dr.Shawn Aaron worried for people in western Canada. 

“Wildfire smoke contains particulate matter and these are small dust-like particles,” he said in an interview..

When these particulars are deeply inhaled, they can cause lung inflammation and injury.

“The N95 mask is probably the one tool that we have in our toolbox that can help people … because that will block out 95 per cent of respirable particles,” he said.

Farmer Normand Boulet and his family in the village of Donnelly — over 430 kilometres northwest of Edmonton — have found the weather conditions concerning.

“It’s hard to to keep up physically with the work, the demand that is there because … you’re pushing, you can’t get enough oxygen into your system,” he said.

Because of the demands of farming, Boulet said it is near impossible to adjust how they work.

“We ran our seeding season through all of this wildfire smoke and you don’t have a choice,” he said. 

“It’s not something where you can go, ‘Oh, well, let’s wait for the smoke to clear.’ The moisture conditions are right. The time is right. You have to go.” 

The smoke is also not ideal for plant photosynthesis as sunlight is blocked, which troubles Boulet due to the Peace region’s short growing season. 

“If they’re not growing because it’s too hot, it’s too cold, or it’s too dry, then every day brings us closer and closer to fall and the potential of having a freeze either, losing the crop or losing quality.” 

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