Hot, dry, windy conditions lead to warning that Alberta wildfires could blow up

Hot, dry conditions and gusty winds have led to what fire-watchers call a red-flag warning across northern Alberta’s forest.

The Chuckegg Creek fire, the largest in the province, is still about three kilometres southwest of High Level, where crews have created a firebreak to protect the community.

The fire has grown to 1,500 square kilometres — an increase of 200 square kilometres from Tuesday.

“The Chuckegg Creek fire experienced extreme fire behaviour yesterday due to continued hot, dry weather,” said a Wednesday morning update. “The south part of the fire took a 10-kilometre run towards Paddle Prairie, and the north part of the fire was active to the south of Watt Mountain.

“Resources are being mobilized to assess the situation around Paddle Prairie.”

Later Wednesday, officials said the south part of the Chuckegg Creek fire crossed Highway 35, south of High Level. It’s approximately six kilometres east of Highway 35.

Alberta Transportation has also closed Highway 697 leading east to a ferry.

Officials said the firebreak around High Level continues to keep flames away from the town.

About 5,000 people were ordered to leave High Level and surrounding communities more than a week ago. Those evacuees have started to receive provincial emergency funds but have been told not to expect to return home before this weekend.

The red-flag warning suggests there’s potential for fires to blow up in some areas.

“Very dry conditions with hot temperatures are expected to persist across the boreal forest with widespread crossover conditions,” said a forecast from Alberta Wildfire.

The forecast also said that stronger and gusty winds could lead to a major increase in the rate of the fires’ spread and intensity.

There were seven out-of-control fires, including two in the High Level area, burning Wednesday in northern Alberta.

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