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Forest fires ravage Canadian province of Alberta

Around 30,000 people have been evacuated due to the wildfires, prompting the provincial government to declare a state of emergency

Una columna de humo de un incendio forestal en Lodgepole, Alberta (Canadá) el 4 de mayo 2023.
A plume of smoke rises from a fire near Lodgepole in Alberta, Canada, on May 4, 2023.ALBERTA WILDFIRE (via REUTERS)

The Canadian province of Alberta has been battling a wave of forest fires since the weekend. Around 30,000 people have been evacuated due to the blazes, principally in the north and west of the province. On Sunday, authorities reported 110 active fires. On Monday, the number was dropped to 98, although 27 continue to burn out of control. Since the beginning of May, Alberta has broken 34 heat records across the province.

Alberta premier Danielle Smith declared a state of emergency on Saturday to protect “the safety, health and welfare” of residents affected by the “unprecedented situation.” Smith has also asked other provincial fire departments for support. Personnel from Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario are already on the ground to fight the blaze. Another contingent from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is expected to arrive this week.

The areas most affected by the fires are Drayton Valley, Big Lakes, Yellowhead and Parkland. The situation in 15 indigenous reserves is of particular concern. Smith announced Monday that financial assistance will be awarded to people who have been evacuated from their homes for seven or more days. Each adult is eligible to receive 1,250 Canadian dollars (about $935). There will also be an additional payment of 500 Canadian dollars ($375) for each dependent minor.

Smith discussed the situation with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday. In the telephone call, Smith requested military assistance to help battle the fires. Following the conversation, Trudeau announced that the federal government had contacted the Red Cross in order to set up a matching fund to help Albertans affected by the fires. “Canadians stand with the people of Alberta as they deal with these terrible, terrible wildfires,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.

Environment Canada has issued air quality warnings for northern and western Alberta, northern British Columbia and northwestern Saskatchewan. According to the provincial government of Alberta, 405 forest fires have destroyed more than 391,000 hectares so far this year. The new wildfires come as Alberta prepares to vote at the May 29 provincial election. Smith has said that she has no intention of postponing the ballot.

In the summer of 2021, a dizzying rise in temperatures — a phenomenon known as a “heat dome” — wreaked havoc in western Canada. The town of Lytton (British Columbia) reached 49.6º Celsius (121.3ºF), setting a national record. Alberta — the source of Canada’s main oil reserves — was also affected by the 2021 heatwave, which Environment Canada described as “prolonged, dangerous and historic.”

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