Out-of-control wildfire near High Level, Alta. causes ‘very scary sky’

An out-of-control wildfire in northern Alberta caused thick clouds of black smoke to roll over the town of High Level Saturday evening, turning the sun scarlet.

A 25,300-hectare wildfire is burning about 25 kilometres southwest of the town — the biggest of four fires in the area.

Long-time resident Deb Stecyk said the sky was free of smoke Saturday morning.

“By afternoon, it became a very scary sky. It actually looked like a thunderstorm was rolling in, but it was all smoke. It was kind of like a fire cloud,” Stecyk told CBC News.

“It almost looked like the fire was just on the outskirts of High Level. It was kind of frightening.”

High Level resident Deb Stecyk took this photo around 6:30 p.m., hours before the sun went down. (Deb Stecyk)

Stecyk said residents can’t smell the smoke, which was a much lighter shade of grey Sunday morning.

It serves as an ominous reminder of the dangers of wildfire season, she said.

“Given what happened in Fort McMurray and Slave Lake … it makes everybody really nervous,” she said.

“What happened in Fort Mac and Slave Lake has, I think, put everybody in the province on edge.”

Derek Gagnon, an information officer for Alberta Wildfire, said there is not currently a threat to the town, about 450 kilometres north of Grande Prairie.

The wildfire started near Highway 35 on the afternoon of May 12 and is moving northwest, he said. Highway 35 is closed south of High Level.

Deb Stecyk says while High Level residents can certainly see the wildfire smoke, they can’t smell it. (Deb Stecyk)

“It’s pushing away from the highway and it’s also not burning towards the town of High Level. So while people are seeing a lot of smoke and there are some highways in the area that have been closed due to that wildfire, we are not expecting it to go towards the town of High Level,” Gagnon said.

Multiple helicopters and air tankers are supporting the 53 firefighters who are battling the blaze on the ground, he said.

Gagnon said Albertans should keep an eye out for updates from Alberta Wildfire on fires, highway closures and fire bans. A fire ban and off-highway vehicle restriction are in effect for most of northern Alberta.

“We have extreme wildfire conditions in northern Alberta right now, and it’s really easy for any little spark to become a big fire,” Gagnon said. “With the help of Albertans we can ensure that the forests and the people of Alberta stay safe.”

The wildfire near the northern Alberta town of High Level has been burning since May 12. (Deb Stecyk)

A fire ban is in effect for most of northern Alberta. (Deb Stecyk)



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