Wind gusts feed forest fire to massive size, residents of hamlet flee

A tiny, remote community in a tinder-dry region of northwestern Alberta has been evacuated because of an encroaching forest fire that has already burned about 1,000 square kilometres of timber and bush.

ZAMA CITY — A tiny, remote community in a tinder-dry region of northwestern Alberta has been evacuated because of an encroaching forest fire that has already burned about 1,000 square kilometres of timber and bush.

A mandatory evacuation order was issued shortly after 9:30 p.m. Tuesday for the hamlet of Zama City, about 930 kilometres north of Edmonton.

Alberta wildfire officials say hot temperatures and gusty winds fuelled the fast moving flames.

John Klassen, director of operations for Mackenzie County, says the order came after the wind shifted and started pushing the blaze toward the hamlet about 10 kilometres away.

Klassen says it took about six hours for between 150 and 200 permanent residents and transient workers to be moved safely to High Level, Alta., about 140 kilometres to the southeast.

There were no reports or any injuries or health-related troubles.

“Our municipal people were the last ones to pull out of there. And then the road was closed, that’s Highway 35, so no one in and out … other than emergency firefighters,” Klassen said Wednesday.

Highway 35 was open Wednesday, but the province has warned it may close again on short notice depending on smoke and fire conditions.

Residents of the Dene Tha’ First Nation were under a voluntary evacuation order.

The evacuees were asked to register at the town hall and were being put up in motels in High Level. About 300 people have registered, including 134 from the hamlet and 164 from the First Nation.

Klassen said emergency firefighting crews were standing by in Zama City in case the fire reached the community.

The conditions did not bode well.

“We haven’t had rain for quite some time and the temperatures are in the 30s and with some wind,” Klassen said. “It is extremely dry and it’s an extreme fire hazard.”

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