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Bighorn asks residents to prepare to evacuate as wildfire remains out of control

The Devil's Head wildfire that started Labour Day long weekend due to an abandoned campfire was still listed as 'out-of-control' as of Wednesday at noon

BIGHORN – MD of Bighorn residents near the hamlet of Benchlands were asked to be on standby to evacuate as the Devil's Head wildfire remained out of control Wednesday (Oct. 7) morning.

The wildfire that started Labour Day weekend had its status changed from "being held" to "out-of-control" on Oct. 5 after the perimeter of the fire quadrupled in size from almost 700 hectares to approximately 3,624 hectares overnight.

"Agriculture and Forestry crews are continuing suppression on the east flank today, supported by helicopter bucketing, and establishing a dozer guard ... note that size is the perimeter, and not all areas within can burn or carry fire due to the rocky, mountainous terrain," Alberta wildfire officials wrote in an Oct. 7 update.

Officials with Alberta wildfire said the size of the fire has not changed since yesterday.

"We have really favourable weather conditions and are mobilizing an incident management team, so they will have a dedicated team to the fire, along with the resources out there," said wildfire information officer Melissa Story.

On Wednesday, the province had 23 firefighters, one air tanker, eight helicopters and one heavy equipment group battling the blaze.

Investigators determined the fire to be started by an abandoned campfire, but noted it is still under active investigation.

"Our crews are working as hard as they can," Story said. 

Before the status officially changed, MD of Bighorn officials signed a local state of emergency at 2:50 a.m. Tuesday (Oct. 6).

“In the evening hours, the Devil’s Head wildfire was reignited by the Chinook winds and the fire has breached the containment area and is moving south towards the Ghost River and East,” MD of Bighorn Reeve Dene Cooper said.

“We haven’t had to evacuate Bighorn residents yet, [but] we declared a state of local emergency because the fire is significant enough. We are preparing for the worst.”

The reignition stems from the Labour Day long weekend Devil’s Head wildfire in the Black Rock Mountain area in Don Getty Wildland Provincial Park. The area is within the MD of Bighorn and along the eastern edge of Banff National Park near Lake Minnewanka. Alberta wildfire officials noted they have not done any aerial ignition since the first week of September.

Bighorn residents in the surrounding area, including Richards Road, Pears Road, Highway 40, Summer Village of Waiparous, Hamlet of Benchlands, Ghost Country Place and West Jamieson residents were asked to prepare to evacuate on short notice.

Officials said some campers in the area have already been evacuated.

To battle the initial blaze, there were four helicopters, an air tanker and 26 firefighters sent out. The blaze burnt close to 700 acres of land.

Last week, Alberta Forestry also sent out 14 firefighters and five helicopters as the status changed from “under control” to “being held.”

Under control is when a wildfire is receiving enough suppression to ensure there is no further spread of the fire. Being held indicates with current resources that there should be sufficient suppression and the wildfire is not likely to spread beyond the existing boundaries. Out of control is when the wildfire is not responding to the suppression and the flames are breaching the boundaries.

Emergency Command Centre (ECC) coordinator Kendra Tippe said residents should keep an eye on the Alberta Emergency Alert website or on the MD of Bighorn website for updated.

“We are working on confirming the [meeting] location for when and if an evacuation alert is called … residents should be preparing to evacuate on short notice,” Tippe said.

In an Oct. 7 update at noon from the MD of Bighorn, officials said favourable weather continued to bolster wildfire operations again.

"There are no significant changes to wildfire operations; crews will continue suppression efforts on the east flank, supported by helicopter bucketing. Heavy equipment is continuing to establish a guard along the SE flank. Two additional helicopters have been added, along with support from one airtanker group if needed," Bighorn officials wrote.

Since March 1, there have been 684 wildfires burning a total of 4451 hectares in the Forest Protection Area of Alberta.

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